Last updated Apr 9, 2015
Improving the health of future generations.
Hello. Thank you for supporting UK Biobank; we are most grateful to you. Please find below our 2014 UK Biobank Newsletter.You can also follow this project in more detail by regularly visiting the UK Biobank website and you can provide feedback via our website feedback form. Yours sincerely Rory Collins UK Biobank Principal Investigator & BHF Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology, Oxford University
- UK Biobank contributes to pioneering health research
- Keep in touch
- Has work affected your health?
- Can you help scientists find ways to prevent dementia?
- Activity monitor keeps on going
- Follow up of health boosts UK Biobank resource
- Genetics study targets serious disease
- A picture of health
- Research round-up
Researchers studying a wide range of common and painful diseases have made extensive use of the UK Biobank Resource during its first full year of operation.
Illnesses such as arthritis, heart disease, chronic lung disease, tinnitus and hearing disorders were among the first to benefit from the detailed health information provided to UK Biobank by its participants.
The data are also stimulating new approaches to research. Scientists are finding new ways to analyse the vast amount of eye data, for instance, which could provide clues to the development of some serious disorders such as dementia long before they become a medical problem.
Almost 900 scientists from around the world have registered with UK Biobank during its first 18 months. There have been 123 applications to use the resource and some of these studies are already finished and their results published ( Approved Research ). Results will be fed back into the Resource so that others can benefit from them. UK Biobank becomes more valuable as it follows participants’ health for longer. Many thousands more researchers can be expected to use the resource in the coming years as the information it includes becomes increasingly detailed.
Meanwhile, a feasibility study to collect images of brain, heart, bone and blood vessels of 100,000 participants starts in Manchester this year. Genotyping of all half million participants is also under way and the first tranche of hospital data is now available. (No information provided to scientists will identify individual participants.)
Coupled with health and well-being information already provided at assessment, it is possible to see how detailed and valuable the UK Biobank Resource is becoming for health-related research everywhere.
Activities are planned for 2014 to promote the Resource further to the scientific community. Approved research.
UK Biobank becomes of more use to scientists the older it gets and the more health and related information it collects. To keep you informed about results and other developments, such as how you may be able to help further, we need your up-to-date contact details.
Allowing us to keep in touch by email is the easiest and cheapest way of maintaining contact. Emails cost just a fraction of postal costs and the money we save can be spent on improving the resource. If you are new to email, or have recently changed your email address, please do let us know by clicking through to the ‘Update your details’ section of our website. Thank you for supporting UK Biobank. Your help is already making a difference.
Most people spend a large part of their life at work. We know that sometimes the work they do and the substances they may encounter at work can lead to health problems – either when they were working or after they retire.
During your assessment, if you were still working, you may have told us what your current job was then. We now want to find out more about all the major jobs you have done over your working lifetime, whether you are still working or have retired.
We have designed a brief questionnaire for collecting this information which will allow you to build up a job history for yourself. This will help us to investigate if and how work has affected the health of UK Biobank participants.
We will be contacting you later in 2014 asking you to complete this online questionnaire so please watch out for your invitation which may come by email, text and/or letter.
This spring we’ll be inviting participants to complete a series of short cognitive tests online. The tests have been specifically selected to help scientists understand the likely causes of dementia, and all are quick, interesting and enjoyable to do. Some of these tests were done when participants joined the study whilst others will be new. UK Biobank intends to repeat these tests periodically so that it can find out why some people’s cognitive health changes more than other people’s, as this will help understand how to prevent dementia in the future.
Dr John Gallacher, who helped design the tests says: “Our mind is probably our most valuable asset. The prospect of preventing dementia is really exciting and I believe that helping UK Biobank to achieve this goal is a great investment in all our futures.”
Many links between health and activity are already known but there is still much to find out. More than 10,000 participants have so far helped us do that – by wearing an activity monitor, the size of a wrist watch, for a week. Invitations to wear the device will continue to be sent out over the coming year, so if you have not had one yet – do look out for it. More information on activity monitors.
Scientists are developing new techniques to make the most of information collected in this way. “There may be subtle links between activity, or inactivity, and a wide range of common illnesses that we are currently unaware of,” said project manager Rob Gillions.
UK Biobank has reached another major milestone – with data about participants’ hospital admissions now available to help research.
These data provide considerable detail about the reasons why people are admitted to hospital, or attended as an outpatient. They include coded data about the time spent in hospital, including diagnoses and operations. Like all other information collected by UK Biobank, these data will not be provided to scientists in ways that could identify individual participants.
The current data release covers hospitals in England for admissions between April 2006 and March 2011. Data for the period prior to this (back to 1997) and data from Scotland and Wales will be available in the coming months.
Information about people’s hospital stays is collected by the NHS for a wide range of reasons – such as to support healthcare, improve treatments and to help the health authorities plan ahead. But it is also very valuable to health researchers, particularly, as in the case of UK Biobank, when it can be viewed alongside other detailed information provided by participants.
“We are doing all that we can to make UK Biobank as valuable as it can be to health researchers,” said Dr Cathie Sudlow, UK Biobank Chief Scientist.
“Hospital data are crucial to providing as full a picture as possible of the health and well-being of our participants.
“Access to data on the number and types of health conditions that people develop will allow scientists to start asking why some people get particular illnesses and others do not.”
Please take a look at a summary of these data at the UK Biobank Data Showcase.
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.
Thousands of people in Manchester and the north west of England will be the first to undergo detailed imaging of their brains, hearts, bones and blood vessels, as part of a major enhancement to the UK Biobank project.
The images will help scientists to study a wide range of diseases, including dementia and cancer, and heart, bone and brain disorders.
It is hoped that UK Biobank participants, who first volunteered for the project around six years ago, will help again to create the most detailed study of its kind ever undertaken.
Building work is all but completed on the multi-million pound imaging centre at the UK Biobank headquarters in Cheadle, Stockport in preparation for the start this spring. Two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners (weighing 7 and 5 tons, respectively) will obtain many of the crucial images.
This next phase of the UK Biobank project is the biggest and boldest yet. Researchers have never attempted to image so many people and the additional information it provides for research may help to transform understanding of illnesses that cause disability, pain and premature death.
The scanning centre, and other developments within the resource, will help maintain UK Biobank’s presence at the heart of health research for decades to come.
Professor Rory Collins, UK Biobank Principal Investigator, said: “UK Biobank is one of the major health research success stories of recent decades. It is inspiring that so many people want to contribute in this way to tackle disease. “Adding this detailed extra information from images will help in many ways. For instance, it should identify early changes that increase the risk of developing a disease, and it may suggest new ways to slow that process, or to prevent the disease altogether.”
The project aims to image 100,000 participants over the course of the next few years from around the UK. The first invitations go out in early Spring, with thousands more to follow. Once the Manchester imaging centre is up and running, the same exercise will be repeated in other centres around the country over the next few years. This will give many participants the opportunity to help in this pioneering piece of research.
UK Biobank opened up to researchers 18 months ago. Almost 900 researchers have registered with the Resource and thousands more are expected as more health information is added over time. Research highlights include:
UK Biobank data is being used to study rheumatoid arthritis, a common type of arthritis that causes pain, stiffness and disability. The illness affects more than 600,000 people in the UK. Researchers know that some people are more prone to the disease because of their genes, but lifestyle factors such as smoking are important. Using UK Biobank information, researchers will create the world’s largest pre-clinical group of patients, who have antibodies to the disease but as yet have no symptoms. This will allow them to ask lots of questions about how and why the disease develops.
The eye images provided by UK Biobank are being used to investigate diabetic retinopathy (the commonest cause of vision loss in working age individuals), age-related macular degeneration (commonest cause of vision loss in the elderly) and glaucoma (commonest cause of vision loss globally). They are also helping scientists to study myopia and retinal detachment, hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disorders. The retina is one of the few places in the human body that allows easy, non-invasive observation of blood vessels, and there is mounting evidence that features associated with retinal vessels are early indicators of vascular disease.
Information collected during participants’ initial assessment visit will help scientists improve their understanding of coeliac disease and the impact it has on people’s well-being.
UK Biobank data will help scientists to clarify what factors (including height and weight, diet, alcohol intake, physical activity), are associated with risk of developing prostate cancer and the mechanisms through which they may exert an effect.
Researchers will use UK Biobank data to study the role diet may play in causing depression, an illness that is common and costly to the individual and society. Genetic makeup accounts for about 1/3rd of the risk and environmental factors for about 2/3rds, of which psychosocial adversity and stress are important. Little is known about how diet and obesity-related disorders may impact on depression though it is thought that they do. It is possible diet could be modified to offset the biochemical consequences of genetic risk.
Cancer, heart disease, diabetes and shift work
Researchers expect UK Biobank data to help them gain a better understanding of the possible relationship between shift work and disease. They will compare participants who did and did not report shift/ night work against a wide range of illnesses. Previous studies have been inconclusive, but some researchers posit that disturbed patterns of certain hormones due to electric light at night, disturbed sleep or other lifestyle risk factors could put some workers at higher risk of disease.
Reproductive timing and well-being in women
Reproductive timing in women (ages at first period and menopause) is associated with various diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. Data from UK Biobank participants will provide an excellent opportunity to confirm these associations and identify their mechanisms. The team will also identify factors that influence risk of early menopause, which is one of the leading causes of infertility in the western world and becoming an increasing problem as more women choose to delay having children until their 30s.
Research is currently underway in the following cities: Aberdeen; Cambridge; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Exeter; Glasgow; Hong Kong; Leicester; Limburg, Netherlands; Linkoping, Sweden; London; Manchester; Nottingham, Oxford; Philadelphia, USA; Sydney, Australia More information – approved research
What would you like to hear about – please let us know
If there is anything you would particularly like to read about, please let us know. You can email Andrew@ukbiobank.ac.uk or give me a call on 01865 743960. I look forward to hearing from you. Andrew Trehearne, Newsletter Editor.
UK Biobank, 1-2 Spectrum Way, Adswood, Stockport, SK3 0SA
UK Biobank Participant Resource Centre 0800 0 276 276 (free from most landlines; 02920 765597 UK Biobank Limited (company no. 4978912) is a registered charity in England & Wales (1101332) and in Scotland (SC039230).