By Victoria Brown
Ontario has a new reason to donate blood this season, and its not to fill-up blood banks.
The Ontario Health Study (OHS) is launching the largest blood collection program in Canada, as part of its next phase of research.
“We’re looking for things in the blood that predict cancer, that predict heart disease, that predict respiratory disease, and all sorts of chronic diseases,” Dr. Lyle Palmer, executive scientific director of the OHS told Humber News.
The blood will be used in a variety of medical strategies, said Palmer, including biomarker research.
According to the National Cancer Institute website biomarkers, are molecules found in blood, body fluids and tissues that can be a sign of the normal or abnormal process of a condition or disease.
Right now donors are only being accepted from those who have already participated in the survey, said Palmer. According the OHS website invitations are sent out to those who have been approved as donors, but eventually all OHS participants will likely be invited.
After giving blood, donors can receive their results the next day on their OHS participant homepage, said Palmer. Here, participants can find information on their blood count and risk of diabetes, he said.
“Then we process the blood and we freeze it away,” said Palmer “We also freeze the DNA, (and this genetic material) will be used for the genetic research.”
Palmer said researchers can then see what genes are associated with chronic diseases such as depression, heart disease and cancer.
“We could use that genetic information to improve peoples’ health in Ontario,” he said.
Eventually, Palmer said, OHS is thinking about putting blood clinics in place, and is even thinking about having a mobile blood van.
Though patients can volunteer to have their blood taken for research, Plamer said what makes this study different is that OHS is reaching out to the general population of Ontario.
“One of the exciting things that we can do that very few studies have done, is look at ethnicity and cultural diversity and geographic diversity,” said Palmer. “We can look at biomarkers in different ethnic groups.”
So far the OHS has taken blood from 9000 participants, and will begin research on the blood next year. According to a press release, about 90.5 million Ontarians are already eligible to donate.
To be able to give blood, Ontarians can take the 40-minute OHS survey at https://www.ontariohealthstudy.ca/en . Then head to the nearest LifeLab Laboratory services to donate.