A huge amount of work is under way to unlock the secrets of our genetics, and the role they play in putting some people at greater risk of developing particular diseases.
- March 2013: Plans to identifying hundreds and thousands of known points of interest on the genes of all 500,000 participants are announced. The data were made available to approved researchers in 2015.
- January 2018: A new collaboration of leading life-sciences companies, led by Regeneron (and with GSK at first), agreed to sequence the exomes of all half million UK Biobank participants. Exome is a small but special part of our genetic make-up. It makes proteins, and is likely to be important in drug development.
- April 2018: A major initiative to sequence the full genomes of 50,000 UK Biobank participants gets under way. Funded by a £30M grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC), the work is being done at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Cambridge, a world-leader in genome research. Funding to sequence the 450,000 other samples is being sought.
In the largest study of its kind, nine new genes for osteoarthritis have been discovered. This could open the door to new treatments that target the genetic abnormality. The team used UK Biobank to study millions of gene changes in more than 30,000 people with osteoarthritis and nearly 300,000 people without.
You may remember we asked you lots of questions about your health and well-being when you joined UK Biobank. All that information has been put to good use. Researchers in Cambridge looked at the answers to questions about loneliness, and found that it may be influenced by our genes. Further analyses looked into specific activities like going to the pub, being religious or going to a sports club or gym. It revealed fine-grained genetic differences, but also similarities for choosing a particular activity.
International collaborations using UK Biobank data strengthen research and lead to exciting new findings. A 200-strong team of researchers from across the globe incorporated UK Biobank data to map in unprecedented detail the genetic differences that increase the risk of depression. In the world’s largest investigation of its kind, researchers identified 44 gene variants that raise the risk of depression (including 30 new ones). Researchers pooled data from studies in the UK, US, Iceland and Denmark.
Information from 225,000 UK Biobank participants has shown that headache is mainly driven by neurological changes in the brain, rather than changes in blood supply, as was previously thought. The researchers also found that headaches and conditions like depression share common genetic components, which may explain why many migraine patients also suffer from depression. The work also identified 14 new genetic areas of interest for headache.
Further information: www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/understanding-genetic-research/