Stettler residents had the opportunity to be part of a research project called “The Tomorrow Project” when a mobile study centre set up at the Community Hall on Monday and Tuesday.
The purpose of the project is to study volunteers over a period of decades in order to isolate factors that may lead to cancer.
“The idea is we track these individuals’ health over a period of years and hopefully identify some changes within their health over that time,” said James Whitworth, study co-ordinator with the Tomorrow Project.
“The idea is that maybe we’ll be able to recognize something that is linked to the development of cancer or perhaps some other types of disease as well.”
Participants must be between the ages of 35 and 69 and must not have been previously diagnosed with cancer.
Each volunteer fills out a questionnaire, provides a blood and urine sample, and undergoes a battery of tests. Lab assistants will check height, weight, blood pressure, grip strength, and more.
“It’s basically a full physical when you come in here,” Whitworth said.
Then the participants will have to fill out another questionnaire every three to five years. Certain core questions of the survey will remain the same, but the focus may alter slightly. For example, one questionnaire may focus more on exercise.
The Tomorrow Project staff will continue to check in with the volunteers until they are 85 years old.
Similar studies are being done in four other areas: Quebec, the Maritimes, Ontario, and B.C., alhough the project started in Alberta in 2000.
“We want to see what it could be that is leading one individual to develop a condition, while another individual does not,” Whitworth said. “There are so many different ways you can look at it. You can look at environmental things, you can look at workplace exposure, nutrition, exercise habits, use of things like tobacco and alcohol, as well as genetic influences.”
So far, The Tomorrow Project has 35,000 participants from Alberta and are hoping to get 50,000.
The Tomorrow Project’s partners include the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.
Whitworth hopes to get 90 to 100 participants in Stettler over about a day and a half, and said they were booked to 100 per cent capacity.
“It’s based on population size,” Whitworth said. “So if the city isn’t that big, we’re not going to spend that long, because we’ll exhaust all of it pretty quickly.”
The researchers are trying to get a large sample from a wide variety of Alberta towns. After Stettler they’re in Drumheller and Drayton Valley.
They’ve also been to Fort McMurray, Jasper, Banff, and Lloydminster.
“If you can name it, we’ve pretty much been there,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re getting a really representative sample of Alberta, so that means that we have to go all the way north, all the way south, east and west. We want to get information from everybody.”