CHRIS (Cooperative Health Research in South Tyrol) is the name of the population study promoted by the Institute of Biomedicine of Eurac Research and the South Tyrolean Health Authority.
CHRIS is an epidemiological study started in 2011. It takes the form of a long-term health study in South Tyrol and aims to understand the occurrence and development of chronic diseases associated with ageing that are widespread in the population. Examples of such diseases are diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and Parkinson's disease. Through the CHRIS study, researchers have the opportunity to analyze the role of genetic and environmental factors (and their interaction) in determining or contributing to neurological, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
The study area involved is the Vinschgau region, where a united population consisting of families and residing in an area characterized by low regional migration has been identified. For research purposes, these characteristics translate into the possibility to study the genetic history of the population over longer periods of time, with several members and even generations of families participating in the study. In 2015, the study had 5,000 participants, increasing to 13,000 participants in 2018. Over the course of 10 years, more than 13,000 people have participated in the study, about one-third of the adult population of Vinschgau.
The prevalence of common chronic diseases is increasing, but the diagnosis is often made after the onset of the disease, when preventive medicine has less chance of success. The causes of diseases such as diabetes, and many cardiovascular and neurological diseases remain unknown. These diseases have complex etiology and complex risk factors, including for example lifestyle (environmental risk factors), genetic background or their interaction with each other. Prospective studies are an effective tool for biomedical research (epidemiological studies, search for biological markers, hygiene and prevention studies): they are in fact based on large groups of people followed over time (follow-up) and in which clinical parameters, medical history, lifestyle information (such as diet, physical activity, exposure to cigarette smoke, etc.) are collected. With this information it is possible to assess to what extent some of these factors, alone or in association with one's genetic background, can explain the causes, severity or protection from some of these diseases.
Research - The scientific objective is to study the mechanisms of the most common diseases in South Tyrol, identifying their environmental and genetic causes. CHRIS is also a dynamic research platform: the data it collects and its results are a resource for conducting sub-studies aimed at investigating specific diseases or aspects of health. This research aims to have a relevant impact on the ground in terms of early diagnosis and treatment of diseases. CHRIS is therefore of great value to the international scientific community.
Prevention - The CHRIS study gives many South Tyroleans the opportunity to undergo a thorough examination to monitor their health. During the first phase of the study, participants received relevant information about their state of health and, on the advice of their general practitioner, were able to investigate asymptomatic conditions made evident, for example, by electrocardiogram or blood and urine tests conducted at the CHRIS centre.
Such studies are part of a paradigm shift occurring in the field of healthcare: researchers and doctors alike are beginning to realign their focus towards preventing diseases, as well as treating them. "Until recently, biomedical research has focused mostly on patients, their illnesses and the development of better therapies," says Peter P. Pramstaller, Head of Eurac's Center for Biomedi cine. "Today we are focusing our attention more and more on preventative health care for the whole population, and ensuring that people stay healthy until a very old age."