Nanaimo residents invited to participate in national study

Researchers working on the country's largest-ever cancer study are recruiting participants in Nanaimo.

Researchers working on the country’s largest-ever cancer study are recruiting participants in Nanaimo.

A temporary assessment centre opened Monday in Nanaimo North Town Centre to allow area residents to participate in the B.C. Generations Project, a long-term study that aims to explore how genetics, environment and lifestyle contribute to people developing cancer and other related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

The study is part of the larger Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, which is collecting health information, physical measurements and samples in five regions across Canada – B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

To date, almost 250,000 Canadians have joined the study, including more than 24,000 people in B.C. The goal is to have 40,000 British Columbians participate.

The Nanaimo assessment centre hopes to assess about 1,000 mid-Island residents.

John Spinelli, B.C. Generations Project principal investigator and a scientist at the B.C. Cancer Agency, said researchers hope to follow participants for the next 50 years in an effort to identify new factors that reduce or elevate people’s risk of getting cancer so that more preventative programs can be developed.

“This is a chance for ordinary British Columbians to make a lasting contribution,” he said. “You’re doing it for the future, really.”

Participants are required to complete a questionnaire that includes medical history, family history of diseases, medication use, diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption and demographic information.

At the centre, a series of measurements are taken, including height and weight, grip strength, bone density, body mass and blood pressure.

People will be asked to go to a local lab at a later date to give a blood and urine sample and researchers also plan to distribute an additional questionnaire each year.

Spinelli said all the information is stored using a bar code matching up to the individual rather than a name so each participant’s privacy is protected.

The information collected will be linked to the cancer registry so that researchers know which participants develop cancers. Plans are to eventually link the information with Vital Statistics and Ministry of Health databases.

“It’s a big project,” said Spinelli. “Fifty years is what we’re saying is the term of the study. We want people young enough that the kinds of experiences people have now will be relevant to the diseases you get later in life, but old enough that you don’t have to wait 80 years.”

Nanaimo resident Paula Waatainen, 42, who signed up for the study on Monday, said she’s excited to be part of something so important.

“It has the potential to do so much good,” she said. “I’m a mom of three kids. You usually feel quite helpless when it comes to preventing their future diseases.”

One personal benefit is that participants are given the results of the tests, Waatainen added, and she was relieved to learn that her bone density is above average for her age.

The temporary assessment centre is open until Aug. 18. Funding for the remote assessment centres – Nanaimo is one of seven cities to have one – is provided through the B.C. Cancer Foundation and Nanaimo North Town Centre has donated the space. Overall funding for the project is through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

Of the 1,000 spaces available, Spinelli said more than half of them have already been booked. To make an appointment, please call 1-877-675-8221 or go to www.bcgenerationsproject.ca.