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24 September 2018

Why is it important to measure cognition when assessing cardiovascular risk?

We caught up with Adjunct Professor Suvi Rovio to discuss why CANTAB is integral to the success of her large, longitudinal studies into population-based cardiovascular risk.

Can you tell us about yourself?

I am a senior researcher in the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine (CAPC) at the University of Turku, Finland. My main research focus is investigating the possibilities for primordial prevention of cognitive deficits and unravelling the timeline of different determinants and risk factors in the cognitive continuum.


What are the overall aims of your research group?

The CAPC has been delivering high-quality research for over 60 years. Today, the CAPC is directed by Academy Professor Olli Raitakari and serves as headquarters for two large longitudinal studies: the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns (YFS) and the Special Turku Coronary Risk Factor Intervention Project (STRIP) Study. These two longitudinal studies collect data across the lifespan on a wide range of cardiovascular risk factors, and cognitive function. The coupling of these two data sources forms a unique platform to investigate lifelong determinants of cognitive function and dysfunction.


Why did you choose CANTAB for your research?

Out of all the traditional and computerized cognitive testing methods, we chose CANTAB for our studies as it offers an accurate, sensitive, objective and cost-effective way of studying cognitive function from infancy to old age.

As we conduct large, longitudinal studies with thousands of participants who will be tested for years or even decades ahead, we selected a testing method which is easy to administer during the participants’ study visits at the clinic, and that can be applied repeatedly in the follow-up studies.

The CANTAB Connect platform serves particularly well in our multi-centre YFS study as the voice-over instructed test battery allows the data to be collected identically in each study centre, as well as allowing real-time access to all the data collected in different centres.


Can you tell us more about the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study?

The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study (YFS) is a longitudinal, population-based, multi-centre study that was originally designed to provide evidence on the importance, and timing, of genes and early life environmental exposures in the development of cardiovascular diseases. The first examination of 3596 Finnish participants (aged 3-18 years) was nearly 40 years ago, after which there have been follow ups every 3-6 years.

Cognitive testing has been included in the study protocol since 2011, and cognitive function has been a key theme in YFS ever since. Currently, we are running an extensive follow-up field study where the YFS study population has been expanded to cover also the parents and offspring of the original participants. Approximately 7000 subjects are expected to take part in this ongoing study.  

The protocol of this extensive field study includes cognitive testing for all three generations, which means that we are applying CANTAB from infancy to old age: 3 - 100 years old.


What is your role in the research project?  

I am the responsible senior researcher for cognitive function.

Using the YFS cognitive data collected in 2011, I have for example developed statistical methods to fully exploit the rich, raw CANTAB data (Rovio et al. Neuropsychology 2016;30:532-542), and have been able to show that a high burden of cardiovascular risk factors in childhood is associated with poor learning and memory in midlife (Rovio et al. JACC 2017;69:2279-89).


Have you used CANTAB in other population health studies?  

We recently used CANTAB to assess cognition in the follow up phase of the Special Turku Coronary Risk Factor Study (STRIP), in which 1062 participants are enrolled.

STRIP studies the influence of a fat-modified dietary intervention on cardiovascular health from infancy to young adulthood. No other study in the world has been started in 6-month olds and then continued to collect data for nearly 30 years on such a vast number of metabolic risk factors, lifestyle and subclinical markers of vascular health, and currently also on cognitive function.


Can you tell us about your other projects?

In addition my work at the CAPC, I am involved in the Finnish Retirement and Aging Study (FIREA), conducted by the Department of Public Health at the University of Turku.

The FIREA study follows aging workers as they transition to full-time retirement, to examine whether health behaviours and clinical risk factors are affected. Data collection was launched in 2013, and is ongoing until 2019. To assess cognition, CANTAB is delivered annually four times around retirement.

The FIREA study is directed by Adjunct Professor Sari Stenholm, and I am a key researcher on the cognitive function component. This study presents a unique opportunity to investigate the effects of various risk factors (such as work stress, sleep, physical activity) on cognitive performance before and after the transition to retirement.


How have you found working with Cambridge Cognition on your studies?

Working with Cambridge Cognition has been convenient as I have a special contact person who personally takes care of our study set-up and all our queries. Cambridge Cognition has also offered extensive guidance, support and training whenever necessary. Collectively, the research team and I have found CANTAB to be a highly suitable and scientifically valid method of measuring cognitive function in our studies. Cambridge Cognition is an active and pleasant collaborator on our multifaceted research initiatives.


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Tags : public health | population health | cardiovascular | longitudinal | multi-site | big data | lifespan | epidemiology | cantab testimonial

Author portrait

Adjunct Professor Suvi Rovio, Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Finland