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IARC marks 25th anniversary of EPIC study


About 100 researchers from around the world are gathering at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. Designed to investigate the relationships of diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors with the incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases, EPIC is one of the largest cohort studies in the world, with more than half a million participants recruited across 10 European countries. To mark the anniversary, IARC is holding a scientific workshop with presentations highlighting results and ongoing projects of EPIC. Topics being discussed include diet, obesity and cancer, biomarkers for early detection, socioeconomic factors and mortality, and air pollution.

EPIC Study

More than 1000 published scientific articles have been written using data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study since the study was launched 25 years ago. Dr Marc Gunter explains what EPIC is and describes potential directions for the study′s future.

Dr Marc Gunter, Section and Group Head, Nutritional Epidemiology Group.

More than 1000 published scientific articles have been written using data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study since the study was launched 25 years ago. Dr Pietro Ferrari, Group Head, Nutritional Methodology and Biostatistics Group describes how EPIC began and talks about some of the challenges that had to be overcome so that the data could be used to study the causes of cancer and other chronic diseases.

What was the role of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in the creation of the EPIC network of research programmes?

In the early 1990s, national cohort studies on nutrition and cancer were initiated in several European countries. IARC played a central role in coordinating and federating them into the EPIC study, which was initially supported by the Europe Against Cancer programme of the European Union.

How do you manage and centralize the data?

The data on cancer endpoints and vital status are updated every 3 or 4 years. This requires a substantial amount of work on the part of participating centres to collect the information on a regular basis. With support from Imperial College London (ICL), IARC has recently finalized the centralization of lifestyle exposure data collected during follow-up, which will facilitate better characterization of study participants′ exposures over time. The process of centralizing dietary data collected during follow-up has just started.

What were/are the key challenges in managing data centralization?

Databases are becoming substantially larger. They are managed by dedicated software that evolves over time and requires regular maintenance. Storing a large database is only the first step. Handling large amounts of molecular data (i.e. information on genomics, metabolomics, and epigenetics) is a challenging task, particularly when data of different types are cross-linked. Data harmonization is also a demanding task, particularly in multicentre investigations.

In addition to providing insights about cancer, what else has EPIC helped us to learn? [one or two main examples]

In addition to important discoveries on cancer, EPIC has provided solid scientific evidence on the incidence of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as on mortality. A 2014 study highlighted the importance of investigating alcohol intake as a significant predictor of overall and cause-specific mortality (Ferrari et al., 2014). A 2017 study, which received a lot of attention from the media, suggested that coffee drinking was associated with a reduced risk of death due to various causes (Gunter et al., 2017).

The EPIC Steering Committee with Dr Elisabete Weiderpass

Dr Elisabete Weiderpass, IARC′s Director–Elect, describes the role of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study Steering Committee & explains how EPIC helps us understand the link between nutrition & cancer.

Dr Elisabete Weiderpass, IARC′s Director–Elect.

Transcription of the video

Can you explain the role of the EPIC Steering Committee?

The steering committee is composed by principal investigators of all 10 countries, 23 cohorts, participating in EPIC. We meet regularly every month for at least one and a half, two hours to discuss all new projects in EPIC, so the scientific ideas and the priorities for the cohort. We also decide on the use of resources and, most importantly, the use of biological samples within EPIC.

How does EPIC contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between nutrition and cancer?

EPIC is probably the largest study on nutrition and cancer in the world. It includes over 500 000 participants, and it has a very long period of follow–up – it has existed for 25 years – so we have accumulated enough numbers of cases to study in detail specific hypotheses in relation to diet, foods, dietary patterns, but also micronutrients and components of diet in terms of cancer etiology and cancer prognosis.

One example would be all the studies we did on alcohol consumption and cancer. We showed the important association between exposure to alcohol and development of cancer of different types. This body of knowledge has helped to establish the fact that consumption of alcohol should be reduced to a minimum to avoid cancer risk worldwide.

IARC Biobank

Transcript of the video

What is a biobank and why do we use biobanks?

A biobank is a place – a facility – that collects, stores, and distributes material for research. Biobanks have been used in two ways: one is to develop standards, and for example that′s the case in exposure to radiation. The second is to make treatments possible, because we can use biobanks to identify which patients will respond best to particular treatments or tests.

Dr Zisis Kozlakidis
Head, Laboratory Services and Biobank Group

What is stored in a biobank?

The IARC Biobank is a big biobank that contains more than 5 million samples that come from different parts of the world.

We are storing many types of biological samples: blood samples, tissue samples, many other body fluids, nucleic acids, and so on.

Those biological samples are stored in different conditions – most of the time in frozen conditions – from liquid nitrogen at –196 °C to room-temperature storage for some types of biological samples.

The biological samples are associated with data – data from the patient and also data about the samples themselves: the way they are collected, processed, and stored. And all of these data are kept in specific databases in the laboratory information management (LIM) system.

Dr Élodie Caboux
IARC Assistant-Biobank Process Management, Laboratory Services and Biobank Group

What is the purpose of the IARC Biobank?

The IARC Biobank provides biological samples for research – for internal collaboration and also external collaboration. Another important mission of the IARC Biobank is to provide support to low- and middle-income countries in developing and improving the biobank activities they are running in their own countries.

Dr Élodie Caboux
IARC Assistant-Biobank Process Management, Laboratory Services and Biobank Group

The quality of diet and energy balance

Obesity hot spots

Obesity factors

Cancer sites linked to overweight and obesity