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UK Biobank

UK Biobank is a large long-term study in the United Kingdom (UK) which is investigating the respective contributions of genetic predisposition and environmental exposure (including nutrition, lifestyle, medications etc.) to the development of disease. It began in 2007.



The study will follow about 500,000 volunteers in the UK aged 40-69. Initial enrollment is taking place over a number of years with the volunteers being followed for 25 years thereafter.

Prospective participants are invited to visit an assessment centre, at which they complete an automated questionnaire and are interviewed about lifestyle, medical history and nutritional habits; basic variables such weight, height, blood pressure etc. are measured; and blood and urine samples are taken. These samples will be preserved so that it is possible to later extract DNA and measure other biologically important substances. During the whole duration of the study, all disease events, drug prescriptions and deaths of the participants are recorded in a database, taking advantage of the centralized UK National Health Service.[1][2]

If any medical problems are detected during the initial physical, the participant, but not their physician, will be notified. Problems detected later, such as genetic risk factors, are not conveyed to either participant or physician ("to ensure that volunteers are not penalised by insurance companies, for example, which may require customers to disclose the results of any genetic tests.").[3]

Once the data collection has been underway for a number of years, researchers can apply to use the database (though they will not be given access to the volunteers, who will remain strictly anonymous). A typical study would compare a sample of participants who developed a particular disease, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer's disease, with a sample of those that did not, in an attempt to measure the benefits, risk contribution and interaction of specific genes, lifestyles, and medications.


An incremental approach was adopted to developing the study procedures and technology. This consisted of a series of pilot studies of increasing complexity and sophistication with interludes for assessment of results and additional scientific input. In-house trials were conducted during 2005, and a fully integrated clinic was run at Altrincham, Manchester throughout Spring 2006 where 3,800 individuals were assessed. On August 22, 2006, it was announced that the programme will recruit men and women aged between 40 and 69 based from 35 regional centres. [4] The main study began in April 2007 and will continue over a three to four-year recruitment period.[5]


The Biobank project has been generally praised for its ambitious scope and unique potential. A scientific review panel concluded, the "UK Biobank has the potential, in ways that are not currently available elsewhere, to support a wide range of research". [5] Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the MRC, predicted it "will provide scientists with extraordinary information" [4] and "grow into a unique resource for future generations." [5]

There has been some criticism, however. GeneWatch, a pressure group that promotes the responsible use of genetic information, believes the complexity of the programme could result in the finding of "false links between genes and disease," [5] and expressed concern that the genetic information from patients could be patented for commercial purposes. Biobank's chief executive described such a risk as "extremely low, if it exists at all." [4]


The UK Biobank is funded by the UK Department of Health, the Medical Research Council, the Scottish Executive, and the Wellcome Trust medical research charity. The amount needed is 61 million GBP[citation needed].

Related projects

EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) is a similar study that involves 370,000 participants from nine European countries; it is specifically designed to study the respective roles of diet and genes in the development of cancer. [1]

As of 2006, a similar project by the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute is in the planning stages.[3]


  1. ^ a b Draft protocol for the UK Biobank, 14 February 2002
  2. ^ Reviewers' comments on Draft protocol, and responses
  3. ^ a b Andy Coghlan: One million people, one medical gamble. New Scientist, 20 January 2006
  4. ^ a b c Sarah Hall: £61m medical experiment begins. The Guardian, 22 August 2006
  5. ^ a b c d Biobank set for national roll out. BBC News, 21 August 2006
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "UK_Biobank". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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