The Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study (TAHS), the world’s largest and longest running respiratory health research study, is launching a new research phase focusing on the 21,000 brothers and sisters of the original sample.

The TAHS (formerly the Tasmanian Asthma Survey) is a collaboration between the Menzies Research Institute in Tasmania, University of Melbourne, and Monash University. The study, which originated in Tasmania, aims to provide a better understanding of the factors that affect the respiratory health of the community. The TAHS started in 1968 by surveying all 8,500 children born in Tasmania in 1961 through schools across the State.

"Studying siblings is a very important way to identify how diseases group within families,” said Haydn Walters, MD, PhD, senior member of the respiratory research group at Menzies. “It also allows us to dissect out influences of both genes and the environment in the development of respiratory disease, and also in the maintenance of good lung function and health into middle age.”

Walters added that results from the original and follow-up surveys have contributed to a number of medical findings, including that one in 10 people who were asthma-free as a child will develop asthma later on and that one quarter of children with asthma still have asthma at the age of 32. Another important finding was that obese seven-year-old girls have three times the risk of developing new asthma as adults, as normal weight girls do. "

Shyamali Dharmage, PhD, a TAHS researcher and senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, said that studying siblings provides a very powerful way to tease out whether it is our genes or our environments that are the most important factors in developing diseases such as asthma.

"We can look at siblings who both had asthma as children but only one of whom continues to have asthma as an adult. We can then determine what are the differences, during either childhood or adulthood that have contributed to this change in disease status," said Dharmage.

The Asthma Foundation of Tasmania (AFT) CEO Cathy Beswick said the AFT was one of the sponsors of the original survey in 1968 and also recently provided the TAHS with $50,000 of additional funds to continue the laboratory follow-up of the original participants. The follow-up sibling study is being funded by a $852,563 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

"The AFT views this study as a vital key in understanding asthma and other respiratory disorders and then what treatments are most appropriate," said Beswick. "We hope the ongoing TAHS will provide a detailed description of respiratory health and disease in the ageing Tasmanian population."