The NHLBI has a long history of supporting large population and epidemiology studies that have transformed the way the public approaches heart disease. These studies involve studying the health of various populations to uncover patterns, trends, and outcomes that may be applicable to the general population. When it launched in 1948 the original goal of the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) was to identify common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular disease. Over the years, the FHS has become a successful, multigenerational study that analyzes family patterns of cardiovascular and other diseases, while gathering more genetic information from the two generations that followed the original study participants. The FHS also has expanded to include diverse populations so that risk factors in these different groups can be understood.
This research has contributed transformative discoveries related to the treatment of heart disease. Through the FHS, scientists have learned the risk factors for heart disease, and they now know that many of those risks can be changed. It is why, in routine physicals, doctors check for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, unhealthy eating patterns, smoking, physical inactivity, or unhealthy weight. Researchers also know that these conditions can affect people differently depending on a patient’s sex or race. Findings such as these pave the way for new interventions to preempt, prevent, or treat these conditions more effectively.
In the past half century, the study has produced approximately 3,000 articles in leading medical journals. Here are a few of the major findings from the FHS:
Since its early days, the FHS has been committed to data sharing. In 1968, the FHS made massive data tables of FHS-collected measures freely available to outside researchers, many of whom lacked computing resources. NHLBI has continued to leverage FHS resources to spur new scientific discovery through data sharing.
When the FHS began in 1948, researchers recruited 5,209 men and women between the ages of 30 and 62 from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. This was for the first round of extensive physical examinations and lifestyle interviews they would later analyze for common patterns related to cardiovascular disease development. Since then, the participants have continued to return to the study approximately every two to six years to give researchers a detailed medical history and to get physical exams and laboratory tests done. In 1971, the study enrolled a second generation—5,124 of the original participants' adult children and their spouses—to participate in similar examinations. In April 2002, the study entered a new phase: the enrollment of a third generation of participants, the grandchildren of the original cohort.
Researchers recognized the need to establish a new study reflecting Framingham’s more diverse communities. In 1994 they enrolled the first Omni Cohort of the Framingham Heart Study—507 men and women of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Pacific Islander, and Native American descent. In 2003, a second group of Omni participants was enrolled.
In the emerging world of personalized medicine, researchers are furiously looking for disease markers specific to minority populations, and already they have made some promising discoveries.The clues they are gathering, the scientists say, could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases, such as asthma and heart disease, that...