CanCOLD – Canadian Cohort Obstructive Lung Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In Canada, despite low awareness in the public and medical community, COPD is also the main cause of hospital admission for chronic illness. With aging populations, the global prevalence of COPD is rapidly growing. Beyond its impacts on the quality of life of patients and their families, COPD is an extremely costly disease. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated that the yearly costs of the disease will increase from $4 billion in 2010 to $9.5 billion by 2030.

CanCOLD is a collaborative Canada-wide study advancing knowledge of why people develop COPD, how and why COPD impacts individuals differently, and how to provide better care for people affected by this disease

Hosted at the RI-MUHC, the Canadian Cohort Obstructive Lung Disease (CanCOLD) study is a longitudinal study following approximately 1,500 participants in Canada since 2009. CanCOLD aims to enhance the current understanding of COPD progression and burden, and to better advance COPD prevention, diagnosis and management. Public and private investments of more than $14 million have allowed the CanCOLD study to produce policy-relevant knowledge and innovative solutions that have a positive impact on public health and clinical practice. CanCOLD leverages partnerships between researchers and organisations, providing opportunities for graduate students to be trained and young investigators to participate in innovative respiratory health research projects in many institutions across Canada.


CanCOLD’s main objective is to identify potentially modifiable factors beyond tobacco smoking that impact COPD development and disease progression.

Secondary objectives include:

Study overview

CanCOLD is the first observational cohort specific to COPD that has recruited its participants from the general population rather than clinical settings. This strategy better mirrors prevalent COPD populations at large and provides proper representation of typically underrepresented groups in COPD studies: early disease, female population, individuals who have never smoked (up to 30% of the COPD population), and those with physician-undiagnosed disease (up to 70% of the COPD population). With three data collection waves since its launch in 2009 and detailed characterization of study subjects using a range of assessment tools, CanCOLD is an invaluable resource to catalyze COPD research.

Between 2009 and 2015, over 1,500 participants enrolled in CanCOLD and completed baseline assessment. Participants then completed two follow-up visits (2011-2015 and 2013-2019). By the end of 2022, all participants remaining in the study will have completed a fourth in-site assessment.

During each assessment, the CanCOLD study collects a deep pool of information that can be queried to address research questions related to COPD. This information includes standardized questionnaires on lifestyles and behaviours, health status, quality of life, psychological health, occupational health, sleep quality and socio-demographics. Respiratory health is additionally evaluated by telephone contact every 3 months, when participants respond to a COPD exacerbation questionnaire, with questions on symptom changes, medication and health service use. Through in-site assessments, CanCOLD has also collected physical measurements such as pulmonary function tests, cardiopulmonary exercise tests (CPET), CT scans of participants’ chest and lungs, and biospecimens. The CanCOLD cohort data is further enriched by the information available in linked external databases. These databases include administrative health data, such as physician billing claims and hospitalizations, and environmental exposure data, such as ambient air pollution exposure and climate and weather events data distributed by the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE).

The CanCOLD study protocol, including study description, design, measurements and participant eligibility criteria, is published on the National Institutes of Health public registry website.

A resource for the research community

CanCOLD encourages investigators to access its data for research projects in respiratory health and medicine.

A driving force behind the creation of CanCOLD was the need to increase research capacity in COPD and to address challenging and novel research questions in a concerted, high-impact and patient-oriented fashion. The CanCOLD population-based cohort study is a national and international resource offering opportunities to evaluate countless scientific hypotheses, translate bench research into prevention and treatment, and strengthen insight into complex interactions of environment, lifestyle and genetics in chronic respiratory diseases, including COPD.

To date, the CanCOLD observational cohort has resulted in over 75 substudies and 50 peer-reviewed publications touching on a range of topics. The majority of studies to date have served to appropriately quantify COPD prevalence, providing indications for better assessment and diagnosis performance, approaches for early detection, and normative data and advice for interventions in primary and secondary care.

CanCOLD publications have already presented sufficient substantive data to warrant translation into clinical practice, guidelines and health policies for the benefit of COPD patients. Furthermore, the CanCOLD initiative has served, and continues to serve, in training future generations of clinicians, researchers, students and qualified research staff.

Additional information

For additional information on CanCOLD, including how to access the CanCOLD data for a research project, please contact us or visit our website at:

To support the CanCOLD study, please visit the McGill University Health Centre Foundation fundraising page.

Research project team

Co-Principal Investigator / Montreal site Principal Investigator
Co-Principal Investigator / Vancouver site Principal Investigator
Shawn Aaron, MD
Ottawa site Principal Investigator
Kenneth Chapman, MD
Toronto site Principal Investigator
Paul Hernandez, MD
Halifax site Principal Investigator
François Maltais, MD
Québec City site Principal Investigator
Darcy Marciniuk, MD
Saskatoon site Principal Investigator
Denis O’Donnell, MD
Kingston site Principal Investigator
Brandie Walker, MD
Calgary site Principal Investigator
Dany Doiron, PhD
Chief Operating Officer

Contact information

For more information about CanCOLD, email dany.dorion [at]

Jean Bourbeau, MD, M.Sc., FRCPC
Jean Bourbeau, MD, M.Sc., FRCPC

Co-Principal Investigator and Principal Investigator, Montreal site

Dr. Bourbeau is a senior scientist in the Translational Research in Respiratory Diseases Program at the Research Institute of the MUHC.

Wan-Cheng Tan, MD, FRCP (Lon), FCCP
Wan-Cheng Tan, MD, FRCP (Lon), FCCP

Co-Principal Investigator and Principal Investigator, Vancouver site

Dr. Tan is Professor in the Department of Medicine, UBC, and the Division of Respiratory Medicine, St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver.