Stanford’s Wellness Living Laboratory to explore wellness in U.S., China, Taiwan

An international clinical research project that Stanford launched on Sept. 12 aims to find out how to enhance health and overall wellness.

The Wellness Living Laboratory is launching a clinical research project that hopes to improve the health and well-being of whole populations by identifying the factors that help people maintain health and wellness.
Christopher Silas Neal

The Stanford Prevention Research Center launched a clinical research project today to enroll thousands of people in California, China and Taiwan in a study exploring wellness and the connection between a sense of well-being and physical health.

The project, the Wellness Living Laboratory, will collect a variety of health data from participants who, in return, can learn more about well-being and try interventions intended to enhance wellness.

Instead of studying the causes and consequences of disease, WELL will emphasize research on overall health. Its ultimate goal is to improve the health and well-being of whole populations by identifying what factors help people maintain health and wellness and by developing techniques that help people behave in ways that are healthful.

“It’s an effort to change the world of medicine and health,” said John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, professor of medicine and director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “It may sound very ambitious, but I see this as a way to refocus the key priorities of biomedical research.”

WELL has established partnerships with researchers and public health departments in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area; New Taipei City, Taiwan; and Hangzhou, China, to measure well-being and health among residents in those areas.

Observational and interventionist

John Ioannidis

WELL is both an observational study and an interventional study. It aims to enroll at least 10,000 participants from each of the three sites. Researchers will collect health and wellness data and test behavioral modifications and other interventions that help people improve their health and wellness. Such interventions might include improving social, neighborhood and policy environments to support health and wellness, as well as finding ways to encourage people to quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

WELL is a way for ordinary people to contribute to medical science and to eventually create healthier environments for their families and communities, said WELL director Sandra Winter, PhD, MHA. Participants can suggest topics that the team of researchers can include in their surveys. For example, in a soft launch in the Bay Area this summer, some of the 300 participants suggested that WELL study the effect of pet ownership on wellness.

WELL is also considering survey modules on technology use, gut health, cognitive function, intimate relationships and major life events.

Initial funding for the first five years was given to Stanford University through a $10 million gift from the Amway Nutrilite Health Institute Wellness Fund.

Looking at the big picture

Winter and Ioannidis seek to steer biomedical research in a new direction, one that is more focused on prevention. “The vast majority of biomedical research has focused on treating diseases,” said Ioannidis, “while a much smaller part has focused on maintaining health and maybe some prevention efforts. There’s very, very little research that has tried to look at the big picture — what makes people happy, resilient, creative, fully exploring their potential and living not only healthy, but more-than-healthy lives.”

It’s an effort to change the world of medicine and health.

“This is not just about whether you’re being physically active or eating and sleeping well,” said Winter, “but about how your well-being affects your ability to engage in physical activity and how those activities, in turn, affect your well-being.”

In the Bay Area, participants will respond to online surveys that evaluate health and well-being. Anyone 18 or older and living in the Bay Area’s nine counties is invited to register online. For now, the surveys are in English only, but they will eventually be offered in Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish.

In Hangzhou, participants ages 18 to 80 will be recruited over five years. The first 3,000 will be randomly selected from the 640,000 residents of the Xi’hu (West Lake) District and invited to join the study. Friends and relatives of the first group will then bolster the cohort. Researchers will evaluate them in person through surveys, biological specimens and eye exams.

In Taiwan, WELL will collaborate with the Taiwan Biobank, an initiative of the government there that aims to recruit 200,000 individuals for biomedical research. In addition to filling out the wellness-related surveys, participants in Taiwan will donate biospecimens, such as blood, stool, saliva and urine samples, to help identify the biomarkers of wellness.

More information about WELL is available in the summer issue of Stanford Medicine magazine. Preliminary work in the Bay Area suggests that the components of well-being are complex and not always intuitive. For example, while a social network is important to a sense of well-being, difficult friends and family may also undermine well-being. And, likewise, ill health can lead many to reevaluate their lives in ways that actually enhance a sense of well-being.



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