National study paints detailed picture of aging in Canada

On the first floor of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, a massive, two decade-long project has been quietly underway for the past three years. The Vancouver Data Collection Site for the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) is based here, and Dr. Heather Stewart and her team are returning to the Centre to start the first follow-up after 18 months collecting data at SFU Surrey’s CLSA data collection site.

“Our team interviews and examines more than 3,000 Metro Vancouver study participants every three years at our UBC and SFU sites,” says Dr. Stewart, who has managed CLSA operations at UBC and SFU since 2010. “The CLSA achieved its overall recruitment goal of 50,000 participants across Canada in July 2015, and now we’re mid-way through the first follow-up cycle of data collection at SFU and UBC, as well as 13 other data collection and telephone interview sites across the country.”

Data collected from CLSA participants are wide-ranging; it would be hard to paint a comprehensive picture of aging in Canada without details including first-person accounts of participants’ own physical and mental health and social functioning; tests of heart, lung and vascular function; bone density and joint function; vision and hearing; and strength, mobility and balance. The CLSA also collects blood and urine samples from most participants, with state of the art infrastructure for biobanking and analyses, including the CLSA Genetics and Epigenetics Centre located at UBC’s Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics.

CLSA data can be previewed online, and last May the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) invited researchers to propose research projects using the first release of CLSA data.

“Over 40 projects have been approved to begin analyzing the baseline CLSA data,” Dr. Stewart says. “These are very exciting milestone achievements for the CLSA.”

Launched in 2010, the CLSA is a national study that follows more than 50,000 Canadians, aged 45 to 85 at recruitment, for the next 20 years. It’s the most comprehensive study of aging that’s ever been undertaken in Canada. The CLSA will identify ways to improve the health of Canadians by better understanding the processes that trigger and influence different trajectories of aging.  

“In addition to creating a knowledge archive to better understand the many complex and interrelated biological, clinical, psycho-social and societal factors that affect aging, we’re enabling cutting-edge interdisciplinary research for many years to come,” says Dr. Stewart. “The CLSA is a long-term research initiative that promises to provide opportunities for new investigators, trainees, research staff, and industry partners going forward. We’re very excited at the scope of mentorship and training possibilities the CLSA provides.”

The study is a CIHR initiative. It was launched through grants in excess of $75 million from the Government of Canada through CIHR and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, as well as several provinces, universities and other partners. Site leads at UBC are Drs. Teresa Liu-Ambrose (CLSA Data Collection Site) and Michael Kobor (CLSA Genetics and Epigenetics Centre).