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Epidemiology

Statens Serum Institut has a long tradition of epidemiology research, and today the epidemiologic research milieu is among the strongest and most renowned in Europe.

Our research activities have been described in articles in Science, entitled “When an entire country is a cohort” and “The epidemiologist’s dream: Denmark”. In a recent third article in Science the initiative to perform genomic studies using PKU cards was described as "a gold mine".

A crowd of people

Modern epidemiology is a research discipline that was developed during the investigation of the large epidemics in the mid 19th century. Then as well as today, epidemiology is central to our understanding of the prevalence, etiology and consequences of diseases and health problems.

Activities include:

  • research in public health, e.g. effects of vaccine programmes
  • pharmacovigilance 
  • surveillance of diseases and treatment programmes
  • basic epidemiological research

A large part of the epidemiological research focuses on disease etiology and risk factors for disease. Programmes include research on:

  • cancer
  • infectious diseases
  • vaccines
  • autoimmune diseases
  • allergic diseases
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • familial aggregation of diseases

Resources available for epidemiology research

Epidemiology researchers at Statens Serum Institut make use of a very large and diverse set of resources. Many research projects are register-based studies, for example addressing incidence and etiology of diseases, or general health parameters in the population. A number of unique databases have been established at the institute with information on life styles, exposures and health conditions in the population. Other projects include biological specimens yielding information on, for instance, cytology, histology, microbiological agents, genotypes, biomarkers, nutritional status, and immune system responses.

National registers

Thanks to a long tradition of establishing a number of valuable registers with information on the Danish society and population, Denmark is an international pioneer country in the field of register-based research. The cornerstone of Danish registers is the Danish Civil Registration System. Established in 1968, it contains demographic and vital status information on all persons residing in Denmark, aided by the unique personal identification number assigned to each Danish resident.

The CPR number facilitates linkage across registers

The personal identification number permits tracking of individuals in the Danish population over time and accurate linkage of individual-level information from Denmark’s nationwide population-based registers.

Many nationwide health registers, including the National Patient Register, the National Prescription Register, the Danish Cancer Register, the Medical Birth Register and the Cause of Death Register are hosted by the Division. Other nationwide registers on economic and social issues, such as the Education Register, the Employment Classification Module, and the Income Statistics Register, are hosted by Statistics Denmark. An introduction to Danish nationwide registers on health and social issues can be found here. Similar registers exist in Greenland. One of the newest nationwide registers, the Danish Vaccination Register hosted by the Division allows researchers to investigate effectiveness and safety of childhood vaccination programmes. Another is MiBa, the microbiological database which contains nationwide data on microbiological diagnosis on an individual level.

Cohort studies and data collections

Prospective cohort studies offer ideal opportunities for epidemiological research. The Division is home to the Danish National Birth Cohort  (DNBC) a nationwide collection of data and blood samples from almost 100,000 mother-child pairs. The mothers-to-be were interviewed twice during pregnancy about general health, dietary intake, and a range of environmental exposures. Since the birth of their child several rounds of interviews and questionnaires have been carried out yielding detailed information on the children’s health, growth, and development. Currently (2012) the 11-year follow-up study is taking place. Several genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been conducted based on samples from the DNBC biobank with GWAS data generated for about 10,000 DNBC mothers and 2,000 DNBC children. This data is kept in the DNBC databank, and is used together with the detailed phenotypic information for new genetic studies.

Other important resources include the Scandinavian Donations and Transfusions (SCANDAT) database, cohort studies of maternal nutrition and developmental programming, and inflammatory bowel disease cohorts. Large cohort studies and biobanks have been established through a research station in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa (Bandim Health Project), and through research activities in Greenland.

What is Epidemiology?

Modern epidemiology is a research discipline that was developed during the investigation of the large epidemics in the mid 19th century. Then as well as today, epidemiology is central to our understanding of the prevalence, etiology and consequences of diseases and health problems. 

Biobanks

Biological specimens from larger population groups coupled with detailed phenotypic information provide unique opportunities for genetic epidemiology studies, and can also give researchers precise information on, e.g., environmental, nutritional or pharmacological exposures of the population. At Statens Serum Institut we have long performed epidemiological research taking advantage of the resources available in e.g. the DNBC biobank and the Danish Newborn Screening Biobank, which is hosted by Statens Serum Institut and contains dried blood spot samples for virtually all Danes born since 1982.

To further strengthen research opportunities, the Danish National Biobank was established at Statens Serum Institut. Inaugurated in March 2012, the biobank boasts state-of-the art freezers, robotic systems and laboratory facilities, and is planned to contain 15 million biological specimens collected in the Danish health care system. In addition to the physical biobank, the Danish National Biobank also includes an on-line biobank register, which links information about available biological specimens with disease codes and demographic information from national registries. Searching the register it will be possible to look up the number of biological specimens available for patients with a certain diagnosis.

 

Last revised 8 March 2017

Contact

Department of Epidemiology Research
Mads Melbye
Professor, DMSc

Tel: +45 3268 3163

Annemette B. Kristensen
Chief Executive Assistant, PA

Tel: +45 3268 3164

 

Danish National Biobank

Biobank logotype DK

Read more on www.biobankdenmark.dk