The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) has been participating in the German National Cohort since 2014. More than 8,000 people have already been examined as part of this nationwide study into health and disease.
Many people develop cancer, dementia, or diabetes in the course of their lives, while others are spared or only affected in old age. So what are the factors that contribute to determining whether and when a German citizen falls ill? This is the question being addressed by the German National Cohort Study (GNC). The term “cohort” refers to a large group of people who are studied over a long period of time. The study was launched on the initiative of various scientific institutions, including the MDC, with the aim of improving the prevention, early detection, and treatment of widespread diseases. The study began in 2014 and involves collecting data from a total of 200,000 participants.
Scientists at the MDC’s study center are examining 10,000 of these GNC participants and are also involved in the scientific evaluation of all the data collected. Study participants undergo a number of examinations. They are asked, for example, about their lifestyle habits and complete subsequent concentration and memory tests. Data is also collected on body weight and waist circumference. Biological samples such as urine and saliva are also taken to complete the data picture. These samples are stored separately from the participant's personal data. GNC participants are studied for a period of 20 to 30 years, with examinations repeated every few years. One of the purposes of this is to see which diseases emerge in the interim period.
A portion of the study participants – 30,000 in total nationwide – will also undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Every fifth person in this sample group will be examined at the MRI study center at the MDC. “This full-body examination is an important part of the GNC study, as it will enable us to see whether MRI results that don’t necessarily seem to have any relevance for health today are actually associated with the emergence of diseases,” says Professor Tobias Pischon, head of the MDC study center and the Molecular Epidemiology research group.
The study is currently in its first phase, which involves collecting basic data on all participants. This five-year phase will end in 2019, following which the initial scientific evaluations will take place. “These are primarily cross-sectional analyses that will provide information on the status quo,” explains Pischon. He and his colleagues at the MDC study center will, however, start conducting the scientific evaluations of data obtained from the first 100,000 participants before then. “The longitudinal analyses are of particular interest in the long term,” reports Pischon. “These can begin as soon as data has been collected from participants who have experienced changes to their health. This information can then be linked to the data obtained in the first-phase examinations. From this, important conclusions can be drawn about possible risk factors in the emergence of diseases.” (wp)
The guided tour “What keeps us healthy, what makes us sick?” at the MDC’s MRI study center provides insight into the various examinations being conducted as part of the GNC. Tours start at 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 8 p.m. in the foyer of the MDC.C