Imagine knowing years in advance that you are likely to develop a serious disease and then discovering the lifestyle changes you can make to lower the chances of that happening. The Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) is aiming to create a future where links between the onset of disease and factors related to lifestyle, genetics, and the environment are much clearer.

As the largest health research platform in Canadian history, CPTP includes more than 300,000 participants between the ages of 30 and 74 who were recruited through five regional cohorts representing eight provinces (BC Generations Project, Alberta’s Tomorrow Project, Ontario Health Study, CARTaGENE, and Atlantic PATH). Over the next 25 years, some participants will develop cancer or other diseases and the accumulation of CPTP data and biosamples will allow researchers to conduct important population-health studies. They will determine links between the onset of illness and risk factors — including those that can be modified like diet and exercise, those that can’t be modified due to genetics, and those that are largely based on environmental exposure.

“The data can touch every aspect of future health research because it gives you a time capsule to go back and see what people were doing before they developed certain diseases,” says Dr. Craig Earle, Vice President of Cancer Control at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. The organization is a critical investor in, and the founder of, CPTP.

CPTP building ‘world-class’ health resource

CPTP data and biosamples were used in a study that determined that air pollution can alter DNA. Dr. Philip Awadalla, National Scientific Director of CPTP, notes that gene expression signatures largely follow where you live, rather than your ancestry. Dr Awadalla is with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Toronto — the university recently became the national scientific home of CPTP. “By tracking the health of participants over an extended period of time, we will be acquiring knowledge that could help with disease prevention down the road,” he says. Dr. Awadalla envisions that CPTP will enable a future where doctors will be armed with new genetic tools or biomarkers in order to advise patients on the steps they can take to prevent the onset of various diseases in the same way they now advise patients to stop smoking to avoid lung cancer.

“CPTP is a great example of pan-Canadian cooperation to build a resource for health research that is world-class and unique for medicine,” says Dr. Earle. “It is going to be yielding benefits for decades to come.”