HeLTI Strengthening Workshop

Executive summary

The Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative Linked International Intervention Cohorts (HeLTI-LIIC) are a collaboration between Canada, China, India and South Africa. Taking a developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) approach, the HeLTI-LIIC will implement and test approaches to prevent overweight and obesity in children, and risk factors for NCDs, by examining the cumulative effects of approaches starting preconception and continuing through pregnancy into childhood. Through coordination and co-funding of these cohorts, this initiative aims to accelerate learning and impact within and across countries through methodological advances, common measures and data harmonization, as well as enhanced understanding of the results and their implications across contexts. 

In collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) convened a Strengthening Workshop in Geneva, Switzerland from December 12‑16, 2016.  This workshop assisted research teams who had been successful at the Letter of Intent stage in agreeing on study designs for the intervention cohorts in their respective countries, including research design and questions, scope of interventions and data management.

The workshop was facilitated by Nigel Rollins, a scientist with the Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health Unit of the WHO. Teams were first invited to present and discuss their preliminary ideas, then following this initial sharing of ideas, teams’ projects were distilled to their fundamental and basic components over the course of the week, which helped identify commonalities despite the contextual differences in countries and/or cohorts.

The workshop agenda included presentations by international experts, team and small-group brainstorming sessions and plenary discussions—all aimed at engaging participants in achieving the following key objectives:

  • To design linked intervention research cohorts in China, India, South Africa and Canada in order to test interventions to prevent obesity in children and reduce risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs);
  • To agree to principles of collaboration and coordination between joint research teams; and
  • To agree on timelines and processes for finalizing and submitting proposals.

Teams were also presented with summaries of a series of narrative reviews that had been commissioned by CIHR and coordinated by WHO, with the intention to cover various interventions, from preconception to school age, and supporting evidence that could help inform discussions and potentially be incorporated into teams’ research design.

Finally, the oversight body of the HeLTI-LIIC, the HeLTI Council, which consists of representatives from each national funding agency - CIHR, the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the Indian Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), and the WHO, held their first meeting concurrently with the Strengthening Workshop. The HeLTI Council discussed and agreed on HeLTI-LIIC governance and Principles of Collaboration, concepts that were then shared with HeLTI-LIIC research teams on the final day of the Strengthening Workshop.

The main conclusions and discussion points of the workshop are summarized below:

  • The strength of this initiative is in bringing expert researchers together to conduct harmonized, long term cohort studies. HeLTI-LIIC cannot be a compilation of separate, international trials but rather will move science forward through integrated interventions that study outcomes internationally using common measures. Regular meetings and communication within and between teams will be critical.
  • Data management and measurement considerations will be a key component moving forward as teams determine common outcome measures and ensure interoperability and harmonization across data sets. A data workshop is being planned for the fall 2017.
  • The HeLTI Council will continue to develop the governance strategy for HeLTI-LIIC and the Principles of Collaboration with input from the Research Committee.
  • To assist in further developing the initiative, team members and subject matter experts committed to participating in a variety of working groups. Additionally, advice and guidance from these groups will be sought throughout the lifespan of this initiative.
  • Teams agreed on an initial framework of common elements for inclusion in their submissions at the final application stage.

Teams and key expert advisors listen to a presentation of a systematic review of evidence supporting DOHaD-related interventions.

Teams, Funding Agency representatives and key expert advisors attended the workshop.

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