Gathering information for studies of human disease is a slow process-it normally takes several years to get enough usable data to draw significant conclusions.
Now a team of epidemiologists and biostatisticians from UC's environmental health department have a gold mine of ready-to-use data-and they are willing to share it with other researchers.
Scientists at UC and other institutions can apply for access to 17 years' worth of medical information-including biospecimens-on 9,500 people enrolled in the Fernald Medical Monitoring Program (FMMP).
Susan Pinney, PhD, professor of environmental health and epidemiologist for the FMMP, says the database has grown so comprehensive that her team is looking for more researchers to use it.
"We've been studying and tracking this population for almost 17 years now, and the population has matured to a point where we have enough cases of disease to provide sufficient power for analysis," explains Pinney.
Biospecimens, collected at the beginning of the program, can be used for studies of predictive markers for disease.
"Now that we know exactly who was exposed and who was not," she adds, "what we have left is a large pool of data and biological samples from a healthy, unexposed population that is ready to be used for research."
The FMMP was established in 1990 as the result of a $73 million class-action lawsuit against Na-tional Lead of Ohio and the U.S. Department of Energy on behalf of people living near the National Lead of Ohio's Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald. An earlier federal investigation re-vealed that the plant was emitting dangerous levels of uranium dust and gases into the surrounding communities.
Ever since, UC scientists have been monitoring health effects on this population through comprehensive medical exams every two to three years. The data coding is very specific-for example, Pinney can tell a prospective researcher exactly how many people had congestion in their lungs or a rotated heart during their chest X-ray.
But because the FMMP exposure assessment area covered a five-mile radius, there is also a large segment of the population that was truly unexposed to the uranium and radon being emitted from the plant, explains Pinney. That leaves data from more than 60 percent of the study population-some 6,000 people-for other researchers to use in health effects studies where the confounding effect of uranium exposure might have been a concern.
"The value of the database is greatly enhanced by the level of information coding. It's easily searchable and cross-linked with our repository of 100,000 biospecimens," adds Pinney.
Any credentialed researcher can apply for access to the database, and data analysis projects can be done under the auspices of
the FMMP, without secondary approval from the Internal Review Board (IRB).
Once their projects are approved, researchers are given unidentified data files based on the specific scope of their project. Projects involving biospecimens such as tissue, blood or urine, however, must receive separate IRB approval.
There is currently no fee for access to the database; however, researchers requesting biospecimens must provide help to pull samples.