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The Nurses' Health Study

Organization: Nurses' Health Study

Country: USA

Forum: Big data & healthcare

The Nurses’ Health Studies (NHS) are the largest, longest running investigations of women’s health. Created in 1976 and expanded in 1989, the information provided by its 238,000 dedicated nurse-participants has produced key advances in hundreds of important topics, altering medical practice and changing national dietary guidelines. The original study, NHS1, followed 122,000 registered nurses and in 1989 a further 116,686 nurses were enrolled through NHS2. A questionnaire was posted to participants every two years so that the women could provide updates on their diet, lifestyle and health. Biological material, such as toenail clippings, blood and urine samples, are also collected, and paraffin-embedded tumor blocks are recovered from participants who develop certain cancers. This bio-repository has been used to perform multiple genome-wide association studies.

NHS3 was established in 2010. For the first time, the study will be entirely web-based and opened up to participants in Canada. The online format allows the researchers to introduce skip and branching patterns into the questionnaire, dramatically increasing the amount and detail of data they can obtain without needlessly encumbering respondents. NHS3 aims to focus specifically on representing nurses’ diverse backgrounds and on health issues related to lifestyle, fertility/pregnancy, environment, and nursing exposures.

So far, information gathered through the NHS has linked numerous lifestyle factors, such as diet, physical activity, alcohol and smoking, with the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, cognitive impairment and eye disease.

The study is conducted by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

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