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New Zealand scientists launch world’s largest health study

New Zealand scientists launch world’s largest health study

A New Zealand neuroscience team from AUT University is launching what could become the world’s largest ever health study. The research, which tackles the mounting toll of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), is tapping into the power of mobile technology to gain vast amounts of international data and vital epidemiological insights.

Entitled Reducing the International Burden of Stroke Using Mobile Technology (RIBURST), the study will be conducted through the mobile app, Stroke RiskometerTM. Researchers hope that the findings will significantly reduce the devastating impact of conditions such as stroke, diabetes, dementia and heart disease.

“This study has the potential to save countless lives and billions of dollars worldwide,” says AUT University’s Professor Valery Feigin, who is leading the programme. “By delivering population-specific predictive algorithms plus preventative strategies tailored to different cultural and ethnic groups, we hope to dramatically reduce the burden these diseases place on people, families and health systems around the world,” says the Professor of Epidemiology and Neurology.

The Stroke RiskometerTM app, which enables users to assess their individual stroke risk on a smartphone or tablet, was launched in October 2013. However the newly updated version will be available in multiple languages, and allows users to participate in the cross-sectional study and a subsequent longitudinal study from the comfort of their homes.

With an estimated 1.75 billion smart-phone users around the world, the potential scale of the research is immense and could eclipse that of the largest medical experiment in history, a polio study conducted in the 1950s. Field trials for the Salk vaccine involved 1-2 million participants and led to near eradication of the disease, an inspiring outcome for AUT’s RIBURST Study team.

“Non-communicable diseases account for 66 percent of deaths worldwide and cause serious disability for millions of people. Current primary prevention strategies are simply not effective enough,” says Professor Feigin. “We need a step-change in the care and prevention of major non-communicable diseases, but at present we lack the data that’s critical to attaining that.”

The data collected through the RIBURST study will enable the development of a predictive algorithm based on modern risk factors. It will also allow for the generation of population-specific predictive algorithms. “In the case of stroke, 80 percent of people classified as low or medium risk will have a stroke in their lifetime. One in three Māori under 60 will suffer a stroke, compared to one in six European, and in Pacific people the incidence is even worse.”

“The big question is why, and how do we halt it? There’s a huge need for more accurate prediction, more effective prevention, and culturally and ethnically unique preventative strategies,” says Professor Feigin. “This study gives us a chance to achieve that.”


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