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Chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, are the major causes of premature death and disability worldwide. The causes of these complex diseases are linked to lifestyle, social and environmental factors, chronic infection, and genetics.

Although many avoidable causes of major NCDs are known, the existing evidence comes mainly from studies of Western populations and there is substantial uncertainty about their relevance to populations in which the disease rates, risk exposures, and genetic susceptibilities differ from those in Western populations. Moreover, there are still large unexplained variations in the age-specific rates of major NCDs between different countries and between different populations within China, suggesting that many important new causes of specific diseases remain to be discovered.

Prospective biobank studies with prolonged follow-up for both fatal and non-fatal disease outcomes are essential to reliably assess the roles and interplay of genetic and non-genetic determinants of disease aetiology.

Prospective studies can simultaneously examine the associations of many different disease outcomes with particular exposures such as smoking, or, in studies involving cohort-wide assays, with multiple biochemical, genetic or novel multi-omics biomarkers. 

Analysis of genetic variants for particular exposures (e.g. drinking alcohol) and traits (e.g. lipids, measures of obesity) can be used to reliably assess the causal relevance of particular exposures with diseases and to anticipate the likely effects of treatments. Large prospective biobank studies in diverse populations with different diseases rates, different range of risk exposures, and different genetic architectures have the potential to clarify known and identify new causes of major NCDs and inform development of precision medicine and global disease prevention strategies.

A directory of other large-scale epidemiological cohort studies is available at:

See study resources for details of the study design, methodology and available data.

Study data can be viewed in detail using our online Data Showcase. 

Chinese water town