Last updated May 21, 2015
You can find our full list of approved research and published papers by clicking on these links below, though we have also provided a round-up of some of the highlights:
Hearing loss in middle age is common and impacts on quality of life for many people. Research under way includes that into Meniere’s disease (a disorder of the inner ear that affects hearing and balance and causes vertigo and tinnitus) , and the effect of hearing loss and age on long and short term memory.
These research proposals have resulted in a number of published papers, which are now available to the scientific community to help inform further research. Links to these papers can be found on the ‘Publications’ page of our website.
Following the decision to genotype all UK Biobank participants, there has been considerable interest from the research community in using this information for a wide range of health research.
Genetic data will be available to researchers very soon and a number of applications have already been approved to investigate the potential genetic links to depression, cognition, lifespan, dementia and cancer.
Understanding how genetic factors relate to the ageing process is important. Epidemiological studies have looked at this before, but most have focused on one risk factor at a time; UK Biobank offers the chance for assessing the impact of multiple factors and their relationships to be investigated at once.
It is important to note that, in later life, genes are likely to be only a part of the disease process. The impact of lifestyle choices over many years on those genes plays an increasingly important role. UK Biobank is well-placed to help scientists disentangle this complex relationship, which results in some people developing diseases and others living to a healthy old age.
Physical activity & sedentary behaviour
Many thanks to all those participants (70,000 and rising!) who have worn, or are wearing, our activity monitors. In late 2014 we passed the milestone of over 8 million hours of activity recorded!
Our goal is to collect such information on 100,000 participants, and we expect to reach this by the autumn. More than half the people who have been asked to wear an activity monitor have done so, which we consider to be quite an achievement. Interestingly, as time goes by an increasing proportion of participants who we contact agree to do so – perhaps indicating the importance of positive word of mouth in encouraging people to take part in such projects.
Physical activity and its effect on health have long been of interest to scientists. In older people, activity has been found to be associated with reduced risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline and functional impairment. Yet only about one fifth of men and one sixth of women aged 65-74 years meet current physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week.
Through our activity monitor study, participants’ data are providing researchers with more accurate and detailed information than ever before. Researchers will be using this activity information to investigate the effect of different types and intensities of physical activity, and also sedentary behaviour and sleep patterns on cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and the effect of increased use of digital technologies (mobile phones, internet and computer games) on health.
Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’ and can lead to fractures, pain and a loss in quality of life for many people with the disease. In the UK, one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will fracture a bone, mainly due to poor bone health. The cause of the disease is still not fully understood, but research continues to build up a picture of the factors that influence our bone health.
Researchers have been approved to conduct studies into the causes and subsequent consequences of having osteoporosis, and treatments with vitamin D. As the disease is particularly common in women, scientists will be investigating the relationship between women’s reproductive health in relation to fractures, as well as other chronic diseases (such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.)
It is still early days for UK Biobank
Though there is already lots of research going on using UK Biobank data, it is still early days for the resource to do what it was set up to do. It was established as a long-term study to link changes in health to the interaction of genetics, lifestyle and the environment in which people live. To do this requires large numbers of people to be followed over many years.
However, there are already lots of ways in which scientists are examining the data. Their work will lead to more focused research and to the better prioritisation of emerging health issues.
For instance, the large amounts of data allow for fairly simple studies at very little cost to be made about a wide range of diseases. These studies help generate new questions about the links between possible risk factors and diseases which can be tested in more detailed studies in the future. These detailed studies will be able to pull in additional information, as UK Biobank follows participants’ health and treatments over many years.
Participants may be asked to join studies that compare new and existing drug treatments or changes in lifestyle or diet to prevent illnesses or to improve treatments.
UK Biobank is constantly talking to scientists, health charities and other experts in the UK and overseas to improve the resource and to ensure it is delivering what they want. UK Biobank held a meeting in London last spring to which scientists from the UK and overseas were invited to find out about the resource. UK Biobank scientists speak at conferences in the UK and abroad to encourage researchers to use the resource, and briefed a number of key health charities when they reported to the Association of Medical Research Charities in 2014. We have further plans to attend major heart and genetics conferences in the coming years.
Published results are returned to UK Biobank so that other researchers can benefit from them. Scientists will make their findings and their workings out public so that others can confirm them, and build on the achievements already made.
Link to published papers: http://www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/published-papers/