Longitudinal studies provide excellent resolution

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(Boston)–Compared to experimental studies that require complex infrastructure such as laboratories or clinical trials at multiple centers, studies using a longitudinal cohort (an observational research method in which data are collected for the same participants at several times over a period of time) could be a good alternative for researchers starting their first research careers.

“The Framingham Heart Study (FHS) is an excellent example of a database to launch investigations and generate questions that could be followed later by experimental studies,” says Hugo J. Aparicio, MD, MPH, assistant professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, in a perspective article in the journal Caress.

Funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the FHS began in 1948 as a database of thousands of participants from Framingham, Mass., who volunteered and shared their medical data and personal to advance clinical knowledge. Over the decades, FHS has helped answer key questions related to cardiovascular and neurological disease. Over 15,000 participants were included in the FHS studies, resulting in nearly 3,700 published papers using the data.

According to Aparicio, data from longitudinal cohort studies often contain more detail than administrative data sets, which can result in research with higher quality data that can lead to higher-impact publications. Additionally, ongoing studies often have well-established research teams and seasoned researchers with extensive experience. “Access to high-quality data, mentorship, and training in the research process are essential to launching a career in clinical research.”

However, he cautions that using longitudinal cohort studies poses certain challenges and limitations, including: the way the data is collected makes interpretation of the results critical and requires in-depth analysis; the loss of follow-up when patients drop out of the studies and the difficulty of analyzing rare conditions caused by the limited number of participants compared to the total general population.

Either way, Aparicio hopes his perspective piece will inspire early-career researchers to take advantage of these resources. “Beyond publication opportunities, joining a research team during a cohort study can open doors for mentorship, broaden research skills, and help focus and refine your research journey.”

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Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-358-7838, [email protected]


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