For doctors to learn more about people’s risk of disease, they sometimes need willing participants for clinical trials, which can be essential for making discoveries.

One of those clinical studies, which is being performed right in Hagerstown, is now going 30 years strong. It’s called the ARIC Study, short for Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities, and it focuses on this disease that hardens and narrows the arteries, the usual cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the study began in 1987, and the data has become an important resource in the study of diabetes and kidney disease, and will soon expand to examine dementia and cancer, as well.

More than 4,000 people in Washington County volunteered to participate, and have stuck with the study for three decades. On Thursday, several of them stopped by Johns Hopkins University’s George Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention to see what goes on behind the scenes in the exam rooms and laboratories.

“The neat thing is that the participants, because they are now age 75 to 95, they’re still coming in for a five, six-hour examination,” said Dr. Josef Coresh, the principal investigator in the study. “These are people who have survived, people with incredible knowledge about the world – and we gain knowledge about their health.”

“I feel so privileged to be a part of a study that can help future generations,” added Margaret Pontzer, a Hagerstown resident and a volunteer participant.

Dr. Coresh explained that over the course of the study, obesity has become the biggest challenge to a healthy lifestyle – from a combination of a rise in unhealthy food choices, as well as lower physical activity.

To learn more about the findings of the study, click here.