The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPTP) recently announced it was opening up its health data portal to the world’s researchers, allowing access to health and biological data of 300,000 Canadians.

As the largest data collection of its kind in Canadian history, the portal has the capacity to track health and biological information of participants for several decades, presenting a treasure trove of data for researchers conducting long-term population health studies.

“This landmark study offers a wealth of information that will be opened to researchers, which could lead to new strategies in the fight against cancer and related chronic diseases,” said Rona Ambrose, Canada’s health minister, in a statement issued by CPTP.

Researchers will now have the option of either applying this information to their own research or combining it with other partners worldwide. “What makes the CPTP portal so valuable and unique is the volume and variety of the information that has been collected,” Heather Bryant, MD, CPTP’s vice president of cancer control, said in the CPTP statement. Data runs the gamut from health and lifestyle surveys, health outcome data, and blood and toenail clipping samples, Bryant said.

“Given the complexity of cancer, we must study huge numbers of willing participants over a long period of time to uncover meaningful information about its risk factors. Thankfully, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have come forward to share their health information in hopes of unlocking the mystery of why some people develop cancer or other chronic diseases," said Paula Robson, scientific director at the Alberta Tomorrow Project, one of five provincial partners involved in CPTP.

Study participants may develop heart disease or cancer over time. By looking through 20 to 30 years of health data on a participant, identifying biosamples, and possibly re-contacting participants, researchers will have an arsenal of tools to investigate the factors that may contribute to the onset of cancer and chronic disease, such as:

  1. The impact of public health policies on modifying risk factors;
  2. Genomic components that point to promising areas for new drug research;
  3. The reasons why cancer rates are higher in some geographic areas; and
  4. Biological markers found in the blood, which show promise in therapeutic treatment.

Right now there is a move toward combining datasets to increase statistical power. At least 300 to 500 large-scale population health cohorts with more than 20,000 participants exist worldwide, including CPTP’s portal, whose 300,000 participants puts it in the top 20.