About NorthPop

NorthPop is a research infrastructure under construction at Umeå University and Region Västerbotten that will cover 10,000 families in the years 2016-2032, each with a follow-up period of 8 years. The infrastructure consists of a database and a biobank with extensive, population-based, longitudinal data. The cohort will include 10,000 children and up to 20,000 young adults (the children’s parents, who average around 32 years of age at inclusion).

Region Västerbotten and Umeå University have a successful tradition of research based on databases and biobanks, but previously they were almost entirely focused on middle-aged and older individuals, or specific diseases. There is a great need for of a population-based infrastructure with a biobank for children and young adults, as most of our lifestyle-related diseases and behaviors are established early in life. Children and young adults account for 50% of the population in Västerbotten (130 000 individuals). NorthPop therefore perfectly complements the Västerbotten Health Surveys (VHU), which cover the ages of 40 years and older. This will enable studies of the entire life course as well as studies spanning several generations.

NorthPop is an open research infrastructure available to all researchers at Umeå University and Region Västerbotten, as well as external researchers. More than 50 PhD researchers are already involved in NorthPop, at many different departments of Umeå University and clinics of Region Västerbotten. The number of projects and researchers using the infrastructure is expected to increase significantly, and the steering group will work to ensure that the collected material is used to its fullest for research.

We are convinced that NorthPop over the coming decades will develop into a highly valuable research resource at Umeå University and for all of Västerbotten county and contribute to world-leading cutting-edge research.


Structure and data collection

Pregnant women attending their routine ultrasound scan at Region Västerbotten’s clinics in Umeå, Skellefteå and Lycksele are invited to participate in NorthPop together with their partner and their child (current pregnancy). The children (and the whole family) are then followed until the child is 7 years old. The parents give informed consent, which also includes access to data from other local and national databases such as medical records system from hospital, dental, maternal and childcare services as well as national quality registers. The infrastructure covers the population in all of Västerbotten since 2021.

The data collection includes questionnaires and biological samples (Fig 1).

Questionnaires: We use an advanced web survey system that sends automated text messages (SMS) and e-mails to the participants with a link to the surveys. During pregnancy, four questionnaires are answered by the mother and four by the partner. A series of questionnaires are then sent out when the child is 4 months, 9 months, 18 months, 3 years and 7 years old. The questionnaire topics are extensive and cover all aspects of lifestyle, diet, physical activity, social activities, digital media use etc.

Biological samples include blood samples from the pregnant woman in gestational week 28. Blood samples are collected from over 90% of the women. Blood samples from the child are taken from the umbilical cord at birth and we get high quality samples from over 95% of the participants. Blood samples are also collected by a research study nurse at 18 months and 7 years of age. All blood samples are centrifuged and then the following aliquots are saved: 10 plasma tubes, 2 tubes of white blood cells (buffy coat) and 10 tubes of red blood cells (erythrocytes). Samples are stored at -80°C for later analysis including multi-omics and biomarkers for disease.

Other biological samples include a urine sample from the mother in pregnancy (gestational week 18) as well as saliva and fecal samples from the children at 1, 4, 9 and 18 months and at 3 and 7 years of age. In addition, a breast milk sample is collected from the mother when the child is 1 month of age.


Fig 1. Overview of the data collection in NorthPop

Since the start in May 2016, NorthPop has included over 25 000 individuals (over 8500 families, data from Apr 2024). The goal is to include 10,000 families, i.e. 30,000 individuals, and this is expected to be achieved in 2025.

The database contains at present over 10 million data points and the biobank contain over 300 000 aliquots of blood and around 30 000 other biological samples (data from Jan 2024). The amount of data in the database and the number of samples in the biobank will increase significantly over the next years.

The database is located physically on servers at ICT Services at Umeå University and is located organisationally under Register Center North, Region Västerbotten.

The biobank containing NorthPop’s biological samples is stored in the Northern Sweden Biobank, Region Västerbotten.


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