Derry’s biggest ever health study

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The first chapter is closing on a major research project the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture Study (TUDA) which is putting the state-of-the-art C-TRIC facility at Altnagelvin to the best possible use.

The research team at C-TRIC led by University of Ulster researcher Dr Geraldine Horigan, have welcomed more than 1,000 patients through the doors over the past two years, taking part in one of the biggest ever research studies of its kind to be carried out here.

The volunteers are part of a wider 6,000-strong study being carried out jointly between research teams at the University of Ulster, Coleraine and Trinity College Dublin to examine the link between diet, genetics and healthy ageing.

Participants were invited to complete a health and lifestyle questionnaire and to provide information on their usual dietary intake as well completing a series of memory tests. In addition blood samples were collected and analysed for routine parameters as well as a number of genetic factors.

Blood pressure was also measured and all volunteers were also given the opportunity to be screened for osteoporosis (a common concern among the elderly) by undergoing a DXA bone-scan to check their bone mineral density.

“Now that we have reached the target of 2,000 people in Northern Ireland (between C-TRIC and the Northern Ireland centre for Food and Health (NICHE) at Coleraine), we would just like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank each and every one of the volunteers who participated in the study,” says Dr Horigan.

“We were delighted with the overall response to the study and had no problem recruiting the volunteers, news spread quickly and before long we had reached our target.

“Everyone was genuinely very interested and we hope that the results generated will provide important information that will enable a more detailed understanding of how our diet can influence the development of a number of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, hypertension and cognitive decline which can lead to conditions such as dementia and Alzheimers’ disease.

“Furthermore we will be able to study the link between genetic factors and nutrition in these diseases, which affect so many of our local community.

“Without the volunteers we couldn’t do any of this kind of research.”

Eligible participants in the TUDA study ranged in age from 60 to 98 years old and either they (or their parents) were born on the island of Ireland. People from all walks of life and socio-economic classes were represented.

“Now that the data has been collected, the project enters the next demanding phase, which will require the team to carefully enter all this information into software packages for future statistical analysis,” added Dr Horigan.

“This is a very important aspect of the study, data will be entered and double checked for accuracy and it is expected that this will take several months to complete.”

Additionally the clinical blood samples will undergo analyses in the laboratory, something Dr Horigan expects to be completed by the end of the year.

It is anticipated that the outcomes of the research will be published in numerous scientific journals over the next few years.

“The availability of C-TRIC (Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre) has been pivotal in facilitating this research especially since it is conveniently located on the Altnagelvin Area hospital site,” Dr Horigan says.

“C-TRIC proved the perfect centre to carry out a large study this kind.”

The researchers would also like to acknowledge the funding bodies who provided the financial support to allow the study to proceed. This study was initially funded by the Department of Agriculture in ROI and subsequently received cross-border funding to extend the work from the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland.

“We would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone who participated in the TUDA study, and to let them know the work is ongoing. We will keep participants updated as results emerge.