Brussels, 22 August 2006
The biggest ever biobank has been given the go-ahead by an international panel of experts to begin recruiting 500,000 people in the UK to provide medical data and material.
The green light follows a three-month pilot phase in the Manchester area of England involving 3,800 participants. This initial phase impressed both the funders and the peer reviewers.
'UK Biobank has the potential, in ways that are not currently available elsewhere, to support a wide range of research, particularly investigations into complex interactions of various exposures, including genetic and lifestyle factors in the pathways to disease and health,' reads the panel's report on the initiative.
The unique opportunity to build up such a rich set of data justifies the initial establishment costs of GBP 61 million (€89.6 million), the panel agreed. The funding is being provided by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the North West Regional Development Agency.
Letters can now start going out to men and women aged between 40 and 69, inviting them to attend assessment centres around the UK. Once consent is provided, each participant will be asked to donate a blood and urine sample, have some standard measurements (such as blood pressure) and complete a confidential lifestyle questionnaire. Over the next 20 to 30 years UK Biobank will allow approved researchers to use these resources to study the progression of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists have known for many years that the risk to an individual of developing different diseases can be traced to a complex combination of different factors: lifestyle and environment; personal susceptibility; and luck. Because the Biobank will involve thousands of people with the same disease, it will be able to show more reliably than ever before why some people develop it while others do not. This should help to find new ways to prevent death and disability from many different conditions.
'UK Biobank, already watched with envy by researchers across the world, will provide a remarkable resource, allowing us to answer important questions about health and disease. This study has the opportunity to make a real difference to the health of future generations,' said Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust.