With its origins dating back to the early days of the Mayo Clinic, the Rochester Epidemiology Project is the medical resource behind discoveries that have affected patients around the globe. It’s been treasured by researchers and funded by the National Institutes of Health for nearly 50 years. Data collected from several generations of patients in Olmstead County, Minn., has led to groundbreaking research, improving patient care in nearly every medical discipline
The Rochester Epidemiology Project (REP) is one of a kind.
Nearly a century in the making, this collection of comprehensive medical records is one of the few places in the world where scientists can study virtually an entire geographic population to identify trends in disease, evaluate treatments and find factors that put people at risk for illnesses.
“Mayo developed all of this infrastructure for the improvement of the practice, but also for the science,” says Walter Rocca, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist and epidemiologist, and co-director of the REP since 2006.
The Rochester Epidemiology Project is one of the few repositories in the world that:
- Covers a well-defined geographic region — so as to minimize biases such as income, insurance coverage, or membership;
- Spans a timeframe able to provide historical depth;
- Covers enough patients — now at over 500,000 and counting — so inferences can be made from even relatively rare connections; and
- Includes as many electronically searchable variables as possible.
The project has supported more than 2,000 studies through the years. REP-based research has impacted policy, patients, and medicine, worldwide. Notable research findings have included the discovery that women who had their ovaries removed before menopause are at higher risk of dementia; skin cancer is up dramatically in people under 40, especially young women; and smoke-free workplace laws save lives.
The project’s database is currently being used to help design programs for new mothers, to determine compensation to veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, and better allocate precious healthcare resources.
“We recognize the potential for the Rochester Epidemiology Project as a valuable research resource that will enable the scientific community to address public health research questions of importance for the well-being of older Americans,” says Chhanda Dutta, Ph.D., chief of the National Institute on Aging’s Clinical Gerontology Branch. The NIH’s National Institute on Aging has funded the project since 2010.
Because of its long and complex history, the REP will continue to be the foundation for studies that transform medical practices and policies in Olmsted County, the country and worldwide. It provides knowledge, guidance and insight for medical researchers trying to keep people healthy.
To read the full story about the REP, visit Discovery's Edge, Mayo Clinic's research magazine.