Cohort studies follow people over time to investigate causes and risk factors of disease and other health-related outcomes.
They have played key roles in the history of epidemiology and public health, and contemporary cohorts such as the UK Biobank are vital sources of observational data for many different fields of medical research. Large cohort studies assemble many different types of data on participant health, behaviour, environment and genetics, enabled by efficient methods of recruitment, measurement, and follow-up through administrative datasets.
However, these methodological features of cohort studies also present challenges for data analysis, particularly selection biases, measurement error, and questions of causality. This lecture will discuss the successes of and challenges for contemporary cohort studies, and some of the ways in which the challenges can be met.
Dr Benjamin Cairns is a Nuffield Department of Population Health Senior Research Fellow, working in the MRC Population Health Research Unit. His research trajectory started outside of health sciences, studying mathematical models in ecology and conservation. He then joined the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, and has since worked on epidemiological studies in cohorts such as the Million Women Study and the UK Biobank. His current research interests are in aortic valve disease and other cardiovascular diseases, multimorbidity, and research methods in epidemiology.