The high quality of Norwegian population biobanks and health registries opens up for excellent research opportunities.
In this project, we combine health information from three major health surveys with information from Norwegian health registries to better understand disease development and risk of disease. We study in particular the connection between heredity and the environment by linking health data with genetic information from approx. 70,000 participants from HUNT, the Health Survey in Trøndelag, approximately 45,000 participants in the Tromsø survey and 50,000 participants in the Women and Cancer study (NOWAC).
In order to make the best possible use of the comprehensive information contained in these data sets, we need even better statistical methods and models. An important part of the project is therefore to develop such methods. So far, we have looked specifically at statistical methods that can compensate for a high degree of kinship and imbalance between the number of cases (sick) and controls in so-called genome-wide association studies (GWAS). This has been a special challenge for HUNT.
We have established a national network through a structured strategic distribution of scientific positions among the partner institutions for researchers in biostatistics and bioinformatics who wish to build their own, independent research careers. We have also facilitated an arena for exchange of knowledge among young researchers to promote their ability to meet new professional challenges and demands in the best possible way.
In parallel with an extensive use of health information and sensitive data in our research field, we must safeguard participant privacy and integrity in the best possible way. An important part of the project and training is also to build competence around ethical issues related to research on biobanks and health registries and how to promote secure storage and handling of sensitive data.
We present an ambitious but realistic three year proposal to leverage existing digital biologic information from three of the largest prospective cohort studies in Norway, enriched with linkages to a comprehensive list of health registries, to better understand the biology for health and disease within diverse disease domains.
We will build national methodological competence and capacity in the analysis of large-scale biobanks and health registries by focusing on relevant methodological developments.
We will investigate complex ethical questions on the horizon, such as gene-based follow up of participants, in order to secure that the interest of large-scale biobank research and the participants are harmonious and compatible with an ethical commitment to the principle of reciprocity.
We will expand our strong interdisciplinary research team within our three partner universities in Norway, and continue to collaborate with world leaders in biostatistics and bioinformatics.
We will use this foundation to mentor and train six postdoctoral fellows at the multidisciplinary interface of applied and methodologically driven biostatistics and bioinformatics to meet the increasing complexity of the new era of precision medicine.
Our proposal is in compliance with the overarching strategies of the partner universities to build strong statistical and bioinformatics expertise and capacity, and the proposal will be in synergy with our ongoing RCN and NIH supported efforts.