Biobank

As part of the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), blood, urine and DNA samples (biospecimens) are collected from consenting participants. With respondents' consent, these samples are then stored at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for use in future health studies.


What kind of biospecimens are available?

After several years of collection, the CHMS has collected hundreds of thousands of small test tubes of DNA, whole blood, blood fractions and urine from survey participants.

The CHMS plans to continue adding biospecimens to the biobank with each survey cycle.

More information can be found under Available stored biospecimens.

Who can use the biospecimens?

We welcome applications from "bona fide" researchers who conduct research in Canada and work under the direction or supervision of a recognized public or private organization. The biospecimens, which have been collected from 22,000 individuals from all over Canada to date, are available to any Canadian researcher who meets the requirements following a review conducted by Statistics Canada.

How to access CHMS biospecimens

A targeted call for proposals will be held twice a year. Researchers will have two months to submit their proposal every spring and fall. Specific dates will be announced in the call for proposals.

Researchers must provide the following documents when applying for access to the biobank:

  1. The completed Application form to use CHMS biospecimens. Researchers are encouraged to consult the Access Requirements and Protocols for the CHMS biobank and the survey documentation to ensure they have included all required information in their application.
  2. A condensed résumé (three pages maximum) that outlines their qualifications, experience and expertise (including publications and presentations related to their specialization from the past five years). A condensed résumé is required for the principal researcher and all research team members listed on the application.
  3. Documents that show compliance with the following requirements:
    • An ethical review by a research ethics board;
    • Funding arrangements;
    • A scientific peer review (if not conducted by funding body)

Statistics Canada has established a thorough review process to grant researchers restricted access to the anonymous biospecimens for analyses and studies. Statistics Canada will first conduct a feasibility study of each application in order to determine biospecimen availability, to conduct a methodological evaluation and to examine laboratory and operational requirements. Applications deemed feasible will be returned to the researchers, along with a cost estimate so that they can arrange appropriate funding. Researchers will also be asked at this time to submit the standard operating procedures for the proposed laboratory methods. The application will then be reviewed by the CHMS Biobank Advisory Committee, made up of federal government and external health experts.

Statistics Canada's Executive Management Board (EMB) will review the CHMS Biobank Advisory Committee's recommendation and make the final decision. The EMB cannot render a final decision until proof of funding and research ethics board approval are provided. The Biobank coordinator will inform the researcher of the decision.

If the research proposal is accepted, researchers must take an oath to protect data confidentiality. The laboratory analyses can be completed in a laboratory of the researcher's choice, provided that it meets all of Statistics Canada's security requirements. The researcher is responsible for covering any costs associated with meeting the security requirements as well as all costs for laboratory tests and analyses.

Delivery of the biospecimens for an approved project is estimated to take up to one year from the time the application is received. The researcher must cover the cost of the access fees to the biospecimens, which are provided on a cost-recovery basis.

To submit an application, or if you have any questions, please contact the biobank coordinator at statcan.chms-biobank-ecms-biobanque.statcan@canada.ca.

Analytical studies based on stored biospecimens

Researchers can access CHMS data from research data centres (RDCs), which are located at many universities across Canada. These data include their laboratory test results that can be merged with other variables collected as part of the CHMS. Researchers must also sign an agreement with Statistics Canada on control of data use and publication.

The results of all projects using stored biospecimens must be made available through the RDCs. Published results will only be presented as combined data. Under no circumstances will personal or identifiable data be published.

Respondents wishing to withdraw their biospecimens from the Biobank

The summaries of all national studies that received approval to use the stored biospecimens are posted below for a minimum of six weeks prior to the shipment of the biospecimens. Survey participants are therefore informed of how their biospecimens are being used and can, if they wish, ask that their biospecimens be withdrawn from the studies.

Respondents who wish to withdraw their specimens from a study or from all research conducted using samples stored at the Biobank must send a written request to Statistics Canada by email to statcan.chms-biobank-ecms-biobanque.statcan@canada.ca. They must provide their full name, the approximate date that they visited the clinic, their address at time of their visit and their date of birth. This is to ensure that the correct biospecimens are removed and destroyed.

This process is overseen by the Research Ethics Board of Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and Statistics Canada's Executive Management Board.

Approved studies – in progress

Details on studies that have been approved to use CHMS biobank specimens are provided below.

1. Fatty Acid Reference Ranges from the CHMS

Approved in March 2014

Biospecimens used in this study were collected in CHMS cycle 1 (March 2007 to February 2009) and cycle 2 (August 2009 to November 2011).

Purpose

To determine the reference ranges (normal values) of plasma fatty acids of Canadians to provide an appropriate clinical interpretation of laboratory test results. The study will also serve to establish healthy target levels of fatty acids and determine whether certain concentrations are associated with deficiency or increased risk of chronic disease.

Scientific Importance

Fatty acid measurement is being widely reported in research. However, the relevance to the health of Canadians is poor due to the lack of available clinical reference ranges. Determining reference ranges for individual fatty acids from the CHMS biospecimens would make it possible to establish healthy targets and evaluate whether certain levels of fatty acids are associated with deficiency or increased chronic disease risk.

This study will address the development of fatty acid reference ranges in healthy Canadians. The data will enable the development of relevant fatty acid reference ranges in the majority of Canadians from 6 to 79 years of age. Fatty acid reference ranges in young children are highly relevant given that growing evidence links the development of adult chronic disease to these early sensitive years of growth and development.

Output

Data results from analysis of the biosamples will be made available to researchers at Statistics Canada's Research Data Centres. Only aggregate statistical outputs conforming to the confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act will be released. Research findings will be disseminated through peer reviewed academic publications.

Main researcher

Dr. David Ma, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario

2. Measuring the Immunity of Canadians to Measles and Varicella and Assessing the Risk of Epidemics (iCARE)

Approved February, 2016

Biospecimens used in this study were collected as part of the CHMS cycle 2 (Aug 2009 to Nov 2011) and cycle 3 (Jan 2012 to Dec 2013)

Purpose

This study aims to examine the level of population immunity to measles and varicella, (chickenpox) which are both vaccine-preventable diseases in Canada.

Scientific importance

Research into the immunity of populations to infectious diseases like measles and varicella is critical. There have been recent measles outbreaks in several Canadian provinces including Ontario in 2008 and Quebec in 2011. By studying the level of immunity to measles and varicella in Canadians, we can understand whether specific populations are at higher risk of future outbreaks.

This study will measure measles and varicella immunity using serum samples collected from the CHMS, a nationally representative population-based survey of Canadians. The results will show whether Canada is at risk of large outbreaks and to evaluate whether infection patterns of varicella (chickenpox) and herpes zoster (shingles) are changing. These findings will be presented to the policy makers who recommend the best use of vaccines. This will play an important role in improving the health of Canadians by enabling us to predict future trends of these preventable diseases.

Output

Study findings will be presented at conferences and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In addition, findings will be shared with stakeholders such as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), Canadian Immunization Committee (CIC) and provincial and territorial immunization committees and Ministries of Health. Results from this study could also be used to support the PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) and WHO (World Health Organization) initiatives that are documenting the global elimination of measles.

Main Researchers

Dr. Natasha Crowcroft and Dr. Shelly Bolotin, Public Health Ontario

3. Testing of Potential Interfering Substances in Human Serum on the Liaison 25OHD Assay

Approved February, 2016

Biospecimens used in this study were collected as part of the CHMS cycle 1 (March 2007 to February 2009)

Purpose

This proposal aims to investigate a possible bias in the method used to measure Vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) which could affect the status of Vitamin D concentrations in individuals with high total cholesterol.

Scientific Importance

It has been noted that vitamin D levels (measured through circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D) are lower in individuals with higher amounts of body fat. There are several ideas about why this happens but one theory is that something in the blood interferes with either the method (immunoassay) used to measure vitamin D or with its metabolism in the body.

Cholesterol is a good candidate for this interference since it increases as body weight increases, is similar in structure to vitamin D, and is present in higher blood concentrations compared to 25-hydroxyvitamin D. It is possible then that higher cholesterol interacts with 25-hydroxyvitamin D to lower Vitamin D levels in the blood.

The method first used by the CHMS to measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D was a method called immunoassay, which is known to be sensitive to different elements in the blood. Using this method, it is possible that blood cholesterol or triglycerides influenced the 25-hydroxyvitamin D value. To verify this, we will re-measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D in serum using a newer method that is not affected by other components in the blood.

The results from this study should help us better interpret vitamin D status in Canadians, which plays an important role in bone health.

Output

Only aggregate statistical outputs conforming to the confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act will be released. Research findings will be disseminated through peer reviewed academic publications.

Main Researcher

Dr. Steve Brooks, Bureau of Nutritional Sciences, Health Canada

4. Canadian Biomonitoring Data, Reference Ranges and Associations with Health Outcomes of Priority Metals and Trace Elements to Inform Risk Assessment under the Chemicals Management Plan

Approved February, 2016

Biospecimens used in this study were collected as part of CHMS cycle 2 (August 2009 to November 2011)

Purpose

This project will generate biomonitoring data, examine associations with health outcomes, and establish reference ranges to inform risk assessment for metals/trace elements identified as priorities for action under the Government of Canada's Chemicals Management Plan (CMP). These metals and trace elements include (but may be not limited to) Aluminum (Al), Bismuth (Bi), Chromium (Cr), Germanium (Ge), Lanthanum (La), Lithium (Li), Neodymium (Nd), Tellurium (Te), Titanium (Ti), Yttrium (Y), Cerium (Ce), and Praseodymium (Pr).

Scientific Importance

This analysis will provide an estimation of exposure to metals and trace elements and will allow for the investigation of possible associations with respiratory, kidney, liver and hematopoietic health, using data collected as part of the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS). It will also provide data for regulatory assessments under the CMP to help determine the potential for harm to human health from current levels of exposure to these substances from the environment, food, drinking water and consumer products. If the potential for human health risk is identified, risk management actions may be proposed to reduce risk for the Canadian population as appropriate.

The establishment of Canadian reference ranges will afford opportunities to identify vulnerable populations and/or track progress in reducing exposures over time.

Output

Population-weighted summary statistics of concentrations of metals and trace elements in Canadians will be published as part of assessment reports on the CMP Website, as biomonitoring reports, in peer review journals, and/or presented nationally or internationally at scientific conferences on environmental health.

Main Researcher

Dr. Innocent Jayawardene and Dr. Sabit Cakmak, Health Canada

Approved studies – completed

1. Genetic modifiers of folate, vitamin B-12, and homocysteine status in a cross-sectional study of the Canadian population

Genetic variation in the Canadian population means that not all individuals respond equally to the same nutrients. In Canada, Folic Acid (folate) and Vitamin B12 are two nutrients with important public health and policy implications. Folic Acid is required to prevent some birth defects, and Vitamin B12 is required to prevent megaloblastic anemia and neurodegeneration. We identified associations between a number of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs; genetic variants), that are common in the Canadian population, with folate and Vitamin B12 status. These novel associations provide insight into why these SNPs have been associated with B vitamin–related diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer and birth defects, and how we may make recommendations to meet the nutritional needs of Canadians who have them.

Additional information can be found in the journal article listed below:

Zinck, John, Margaret de Groh, Amanda MacFarlane. 2015. "Genetic modifiers of folate, vitamin B-12, and homocysteine status in a cross-sectional study of the Canadian population." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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