The How, What and Why
Before a study can even get off the ground, researchers first need to know the answers to several basic questions. The question needs to be defined clearly, the timeline identified, the finances secured, and the number of cases required to achieve a statistically significant result must be calculated.
In cancer research, there are two basic questions to focus on in research:
1. What are the risk factors for cancer?
2. How can we better treat cancer when it occurs?
The answers to the first question are found through observational studies, like the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. In an observational study, no intervention occurs, as the name implies. The investigators collect data regarding lifestyle, diet and exposure in order to identify commonalities in patients’ environments that may be associated with the development of cancer. Research to identify and test potential treatments for cancer is conducted through clinical trials.
Some of the more common specific types of study designs, each with their own pros and cons, include:
- Observational studies
- Case-control studies – This study compares patients who have a disease or other condition with those who are free of the disease. By comparing the two populations, researchers draw conclusions about associations between conditions and risk factors for disease. One advantage of this study type is that it can be done quickly. A downside is that case control studies are subject to bias, and they can’t determine the absolute risk of developing a disease.
- Cohort or longitudinal studies – This type of study involves following a defined group of individuals over time. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is in this category. Cohort or longitudinal studies are commonly used to establish risk factors for disease, or to evaluate the outcome of a treatment. The downside to this type of study is they require a large study population, can take a long time, and often require a lot of funding to complete.
- Clinical trials
- Randomized studies – Considered by many to be the gold standard in medical research, these studies randomly place subjects into two groups: 1) a treatment group and 2) a control group (treated either with a placebo group or a standard therapy). Randomized studies are difficult to conduct but tend to produce unbiased results. In some cases, ethical considerations may make this study type inappropriate for certain diseases or patients. For example, it would be unethical to withhold drug treatment or use a placebo on patients with cancer.
Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study participants are well aware of the work and dedication involved in being a participant for an observational study. Because the participants usually are not ill and in search of a better treatment, there is less motivation to comply with all of the study requirements. It is often difficult to see the ‘big picture’ benefit as the answers to the questions may be years down the road—in our case, it may be our goldens’ entire lifetime.
For our Golden Retriever Lifetime Study participants, it is both challenging and rewarding to participate in groundbreaking longitudinal research. They contribute their time and their pets’ data because they know that the results of this study may improve the lives of our pets. For their dedication to advancing animal health, we are grateful to each and every participant, both humans and hero dogs.