UK Biobank is undertaking detailed DNA analysis of its 500,000 participants. This will help scientists to better understand the complex interaction of lifestyle and genes in causing heart disease, dementia, cancer and a wide range of other life-threatening and disabling disorders.
This genetic analysis (‘genotyping’) project, costing over £20 million, will examine several hundred thousand genetic ‘markers’ on each UK Biobank participant and create in total more than 400 billion (yes, billion!) possible points of data.
The work is being done under strict controls by the Affymetrix company, which is not provided with information that can identify participants. Data will become available through UK Biobank over the course of the next two years.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “This new investment will allow the study to truly reach its potential and maximise the value of its data.”
Professor Peter Donnelly, Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, at the University of Oxford, said UK Biobank’s power is in its size and the richness of information already collected on participants, coupled with this additional data from genotyping.
The work will provide information on genes, but also on the DNA between them, thought to play an important role in switching them on and off. “This research is going to provide completely new clues to the biological processes that lead to diseases, and new ideas for successful intervention and treatment,” he said.
The UK Biobank Resource will also help to explain why some people respond better to treatments, or have worse side effects. “This is about homing in on biological mechanisms underlying disease that we’re as yet unaware of, and to disentangle those processes to tackle a wide range of common illnesses,” he said.
DNA is extracted from blood stored by UK Biobank. The genetic data are returned to UK Biobank so that approved researchers conducting bona fide health-related research in the public interest can study the relevance of genetic differences, together with other health and lifestyle factors (such as diet and activity levels) in many different disease.
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