Health research can often seem limited to the labs and biobanking facilities where it takes place. However, thanks to the very nature of translational medicine, this type of study has a significantly likely chance of being used to guide healthcare decisions, develop new technologies and even direct lifestyle choice. Take the national Women’s Health Initiative, for example, which began in the 1980s as a way to study how diet, physical fitness and other behaviors shaped women’s health and longevity. Today, three decades after its inception, the project is still going strong and revealing a significant amount of helpful data about many common choices.
The Women’s Health Initiative is being conducted at a number of universities and research centers across the United States. However, one of the largest portions of the project takes place at the University of Buffalo, which has reached out to more than 160,000 across the country and currently stores over 100,000 biological samples in its freezer inventory and sample management system. Called the UB Epidemiology and Environmental Health Biobank, this system contains data on women ranging from the age of 67 to 100, who continue to complete annual questionnaires on their health and lifestyles.
And this ever-growing body of information has undoubtedly been helpful to millions of patients. For example, in 2002, a study on hormone replacement therapy found that this types of treatment increased the risk of heart disease, stroke and beast cancer. Current research estimates that these findings decreased the use of such therapies in half around the world, saving $53 billion in health costs and sparing nearly 200,000 women from these serious health conditions. Moreover, in April 2015, the project began several new studies, including a national physical activity study, research into cocoa flavonoids and multivitamins to determine their impact on heart disease and cancer, and an oral microbiome, which will use the facility’s sample management system to study the body’s bacteria levels. Meanwhile, an ongoing study is researching the impact on low-dose aspirin dosages and reproductive health.
More than 4,000 women across Western New York alone are part of the health initiative, allowing their genetic and lifestyle data to be used in the pursuit of translational research. While the project requires time and research, both donors and researchers know that their efforts will help coming generations make better choices regarding disease treatment, prevention and more.