Launched in 2006, this vast resource contains biomedical data on half a million individuals in the UK who have been followed for 10 years.
Almost 11,000 researchers in 72 countries are registered to use UK Biobank (based near Salford) and that number is growing all the time.
Already, studies are yielding important findings. Since 2012 alone there have been 13,000 applications to use the data and over 750 published scientific papers. Examples include the genetic influences on fundamental processes involved in how we think, act and function, which will provide impetus to new research into degenerative and psychiatric disorders. Another study has identified more than 500 genes that play a role in blood pressure – which is a highly inheritable but modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
In March 2019, UK Biobank released new genetic data containing exome sequences from 50,000 participants. Whole genome sequencing has begun and a consortium of biopharma companies and charities will invest in complete sequencing of all 500,000 participants by 2021, a £200 million investment as part of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Linked to detailed health, biomedical and imaging data, the results will allow researchers developing new treatments to understand genetic differences across the population and how these might impact on disease risks and treatment effectiveness.
UK Biobank was established by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome, the UK government’s Department of Health, the Scottish Government and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. The bulk of its funding, £250 million, has come from MRC and Wellcome but it has also received funding from the Welsh Government, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK.