All About Alberta’s Tomorrow Project
What began as an ambitious concept has flourished and grown to become the largest health research study in Alberta’s history. In the late 1990s, Dr. Heather Bryant envisioned a project which would function as a living, breathing thermometer of Albertans’ health for decades to come. A former Vice-President of the Alberta Cancer Board, Bryant and her colleagues knew that the emergence of measurable biological markers could help future researchers probe more deeply into the risk factors for cancer and chronic diseases. Data gathered from a wide variety of residents would provide valuable insight into the ways diet, nutrition, genetics, and environmental factors all interact to influence health over time.
Challenges and opportunities
While straightforward, the notion of a large study lasting five decades brought with it several challenges: would Albertans be inspired to sign up? Would they be willing to stay with the project for years? And would they consent to divulge intimate details regarding their lifestyle habits, such as sleep patterns, medication use, social and employment background, and medical history including reproductive health and psychological wellbeing? Thankfully for the project, the answer was a resounding yes.
After a feasibility study was conducted in 1999, and ethical approval was granted in September 2000, the first phase of random digit dialing was launched to invite people to participate. By 2006 more than 23,000 people had enrolled.
New leadership, new partnership
In October of 2006 Dr. Paula Robson was named Principal Investigator and Scientific Director, to shepherd the study in a new era of development and collaboration.
In 2008, ATP joined a nation-wide research platform called the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) representing more than 300,000 participants from five provincial cohorts: Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces (Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia). Together, the consortium of five regional studies would provide not only greater statistical power for research, but an opportunity to examine geographical trends in health and wellbeing across Canada’s vast landscape.
Over the next several years, various approaches to recruitment led us to achieve the target of 55,000 men and women in the spring of 2015. Attention was turned to promoting the massive resource – containing more than 1.2 billion points of health and lifestyle data – to researchers working the fields of cancer and chronic disease prevention within Alberta and beyond.
In 2017, the project welcomed Dr. Jennifer Vena as its new Principal Investigator and Scientific Director.
Mission for the years ahead
Throughout its development, everyone linked to Alberta’s Tomorrow Project – from participants, to research scientists and project employees – has kept a singular goal in sight: to investigate why some people develop cancer and chronic diseases over time, while others do not. A better understanding of the causes of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases will help create more effective prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment programs in the future.
Here are some of our most important milestones:
Alberta’s Tomorrow Project is funded by Alberta Health and the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, and is based in CancerControl Alberta at Alberta Health Services.