There’s an excellent write up in the San Francisco Chronicle this week discussing a study that’s both groundbreaking and unusual. The reason? Researchers have been able to gather data from three generations of women.
The Chronicle interviewed participant Ida Washington regarding how her involvement in the study came about, and learned that it all started with Ida’s 92-year-old mother. Willie Mae Washington had survived breast cancer when Ida was a child, and had given her blood as a part of a study. She had also enrolled her daughter in ongoing research.
The other unique detail that made Willie May an ideal candidate for the study was the fact that she had none of the known risk factors for breast cancer. There was no prior family history, and Willie May didn’t drink or smoke. That made her the perfect candidate for a study evaluating environmental risk factors for breast cancer. That’s not even the most interesting part, though. The source and scope of the information that made this study possible offer the biggest surprise.
Willie May and Ida are among 15,000 women involved in Child Health and Development Studies, a group that has been storing women’s blood for long-term research since 1959. That alone is tremendous. The ability to study blood samples over a 50 year period opens up numerous avenues in the area of women’s health research.
In the article, Ida discusses her memories of being involved in the study over the years, explaining that as a child she wasn’t really aware of the massive undertaking she was involved in. Another participant, Laurie Havas, tells a similar story. The main difference for Havas was that her mother, who enrolled her in the study, died when Havas was 21 or pancreatic cancer. Havas is proud to continue participating in the study in honor of her mother.
While the Chronicle article only specifically discusses the breast cancer study that the Washington’s are participating in, the possibilities for this vast amount of information are almost limitless. The fact that Child Health and Development Studies plans to continue gathering blood and urine samples from women for the foreseeable future means that we can look forward to many more long-term women’s health studies with access to in-depth data never before available. It will be fascinating to watch what’s sure to be discovered with this information.