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Friday 28th October 2016

Biobank ready for deposits

15th March 2006


The world's largest medical project was launched in Altrincham, Cheshire.  Hundreds of volunteers will give blood and DNA to a controversial genetic database, Biobank.

The UK Biobank aims to obtain DNA samples from 500,000 people aged 40-69 and track their health. This will be the largest ever study into the genetic and environmental causes of disease. Biobank was conceived five years ago, but it is only now that the project is recruiting volunteers for the study.

Lead investigator Professor Rory Collins said the project could have a profound impact on scientific understanding of disease. The database will be made available to researchers wanting to discover the causes of diseases. A committee will consider applications from academic scientists and private companies. It will only approve research that it deems to be ethical.

Professor Collins believes that the biobank could be used to find cures for some of the biggest killers including heart disease, diabetes and various cancers.

The first wave of recruits will be from south Manchester: 3,000 people are being sent letters for the start-up phase. It is hoped that Biobank will begin recruiting nationally by September.

If accepted for the study volunteers will give a sample of their DNA and answer questions about their current health and lifestyle, their health will then be tracked for several decades. Their names and addresses will be kept confidential.

There has been some criticism of the project. Many leading medical researchers are concerned that it will be difficult to accurately track lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise of 500,000 people. As a result, they say, the study will be superficial and may find false links between genes and disease.

Professor Collins said that Biobank was now putting more emphasis on getting information about lifestyle factors. Privately though some still think there's not been enough investment in gathering lifestyle data, with too little consultation with scientists on how to collect information about behaviour.

Dr Helen Wallace, of the pressure group Gene Watch, fears that the project may divert energy and resources from other studies,and overemphasise genetic rather than environmental aspects of disease causation.

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