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Helping researchers get CLOSER to the facts of life

A world-leading initiative, which brings together some of the most important studies of people's lives in the UK – including Children of the 90s – has been launched this week by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The UK is home to the largest and longest-running longitudinal studies in the world and the Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resource (CLOSER), as the initiative is known, will pay a vital role in maximising the use, value and impact of these studies both within the UK and abroad. It will focus on nine of the country’s leading studies, with participants born as early as 1911 and as recently as 2007.

Professor Jane Elliott from the Institute of Education in London will lead a team to establish a national centre of excellence across the nine longitudinal studies. ALSPAC will be represented by its executive director, Ms Lynn Molloy and its head of laboratories, Dr Sue Ring.

Strengthening the links between these studies will allow researchers, policymakers and others to make much better use of the rich and detailed data on people’s lives gathered over many years in the UK. Repeating the same longitudinal analysis across a number of studies allows researchers to test whether results are robust, and how they are changed by the context in which data has been collected.

Cross-cohort analysis helps the understanding of changes in society and how policy impacts on people’s lives. For example, understanding the background to issues such as the rise in obesity and the stagnation or decline in social mobility requires longitudinal data collected from several generations of people.

A major element of CLOSER will be a single tool that enables researchers to find the information they need for their analyses across all the cohort and longitudinal studies involved. The search platform will be designed for use by a wide range of users with very different levels of experience in data management, analysis and discovery. It will provide a simple, intuitive interface, encouraging more researchers to use longitudinal data and thereby stimulating interdisciplinary research.

CLOSER will also offer a programme of training which will enable a whole new generation of researchers and policymakers to use these rich and complex longitudinal data to help inform key areas such as education and health. It is a £5-million initiative over five years and part of the larger £33.5 million Birth Cohort Facility Project which includes the new birth cohort study – Life Study.

The Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, said:

‘Cohort studies give unparalleled insights into people’s lives and their life chances. This excellent new facility will make that easier than ever before.’

Professor Elliott, Director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, added:

‘I am delighted to be given this opportunity to lead this pioneering initiative which will help researchers to address key questions – for example about the factors that are important for children’s wellbeing, and about behaviours and experiences that influence health in later life.’
Lynn Molloy, Executive Director of ALSPAC, said:
‘CLOSER is a fantastic opportunity for UK-based cohort studies to work together to better utilize the research arising from these studies. I am delighted that ALSPAC is involved in this groundbreaking project.’

Please contact Dara O'Hare for further information.

Further information:

  1. CLOSER is a £5-million initiative and part of the larger £33.5 million Birth Cohort Facility Project which includes the new birth cohort study - Life Study. £28.5 million was provided from the Government's Large Facilities Capital Fund (LFCF). Administered by the ESRC, CLOSER's purpose is to establish the infrastructure needed to maximise the use, value and impact of data collected across nine UK cohort studies panning 65 years. The studies are: National Survey of Health and Development (the 1946 Birth Cohort); National Child Development Study (the 1958 Birth Cohort); 1970 Birth Cohort Study; Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; Millennium Cohort Study; Southampton Women's Survey; Hertfordshire Cohort Study; Understanding Society; Life Study.
  2. Life Study is a pioneering study which will track the growth, development, health, wellbeing and social circumstances of over 90,000 UK babies and their families – from all walks of life - and will initially cover the period from pregnancy right through to the early years. Recruitment is due to begin in or around 2013.
  3. A birth cohort study follows the progress and experiences of the same individuals at different points in time to track the influence of early health and life circumstances on outcomes and achievements in later life. It allows the influence of a wide range of factors that have changed with successive generations to be explored, ranging from nutrition and exercise to family structure, access to education and parental employment patterns. The first large-scale UK cohort study to take place was the 1946 National Survey of Health and Development.
  4. A major element of CLOSER will be the development of Uniform Search Platform which will allow users to see the content of the studies, better plan their research and use the analyses from more than one cohort, encouraging more researchers to use longitudinal data and stimulate interdisciplinary research.
  5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk
  6. For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council (MRC) has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.
  7. The Institute of Education, University of London (IOE) is the UK’s leading graduate school of education and one of the world’s foremost centres for research and teaching in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the Institute's research activity was judged to be internationally significant and over a third was judged to be "world leading". The IOE is a member of the 1994 Group, which brings together 15 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities.
  8. Professor Jane Elliott is director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, an ESRC Resource Centre based at the IOE. CLS manages three of the UK’s birth cohort studies – the 1958, 1970 and Millennium cohort studies.