World’s most diverse epidemiological study gets 5-year renewal grant

November 3, 2022

A five-year renewal grant of $12.1-million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has been awarded to the Multiethnic Cohort (MEC) Study, the most ethnically diverse epidemiological study in the world that follows 215,000 residents of Hawaiʻi and Southern California for development of cancer and other chronic diseases. Funding has continuously been provided from the NCI for the study’s exceptional contributions.

The joint effort between the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center and the University of Southern California (USC) Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is now in its 28th year to utilize the ethnic and cultural diversity of these two geographical areas, as well as the expertise of the investigators in nutrition, health disparities and genetics.

woman pointing to presentation board surrounded by people
Researcher Unhee Lim shares study findings on obesity
and cancer at MEC Study 25th Anniversary celebration

“The grant renewal will make possible the further follow-up of MEC Study participants for a number of new studies that will continue to build on our efforts to understand health disparities and improve the prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases,” said UH Cancer Center researcher Loїc Le Marchand, principal investigator of the MEC Study.

The five-year renewal will allow the study of additional health conditions more common in Hawaiʻi, such as visceral obesity and liver cancer, and new areas such as social determinants of health, health effects of climate change and genetic risk prediction.

Co-principal investigators of the MEC Study are Lynne Wilkens of the UH Cancer Center, and Christopher Haiman of USC’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

More on the MEC Study

The study cohort includes men and women of five main ethnic/racial populations: Japanese Americans, Native Hawaiians, African Americans, Latinos and whites. Researchers have been following this cohort to examine how the members, who develop cancer or other diseases, differed in various risk factors several years before diagnosis.

In the early 2000’s, the study expanded to include a biorepository containing more than 2.5 million biological specimens (mainly blood and urine samples) from more than 75,000 MEC Study participants.

The MEC Study has resulted in more than 950 peer-reviewed scientific articles on a wide range of topics, including smoking, diet, physical activity, obesity, hormones, environmental contaminants and genetic predisposition. In addition to the UH Cancer Center and USC, the data and samples have been used by more than 150 trainees, and by researchers from more than 85 academic institutions.