Analysis of biological samples
One major way in which UK Biobank continues to enhance the utility of the research resource is by converting the information contained in the biological samples, which are limited and depletable, into data that can be readily used by researchers worldwide from both academia and industry.
In order to enhance the value of the UK Biobank for the research community, we sought to measure a wide range of biochemical markers in samples collected at baseline from all 500,000 participants and among the 20,000 participants who attended a repeat assessment visit 4-5 years later (2012-2013). This work was funded by Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK.
The assays were selected by the internal and external experts. Thirty-four biomarkers were chosen based on their scientific relevance for studying a wide range of diseases, and included established risk factors for disease (e.g. lipids for vascular disease, sex hormones for cancer), diagnostic measures (e.g. HbA1c for diabetes and rheumatoid factor for arthritis) or markers of phenotypes that were not otherwise well assessed (e.g. renal and liver function).
Haematological assays (e.g. full blood count and related parameters) are commonly used in clinical practice, and are associated with a number of diseases, from anaemia to blood borne cancers. Assays were performed on fresh blood samples collected at baseline and the first repeat assessment visit and for some participants who attended an imaging assessment.
Infectious disease markers
To enhance the resource with quantitative data on past exposure to a range of infectious agents, we have performed a pilot study to develop and validate a Luminex-based multiplex panel to measure serological antibody responses against 20 pathogens in 10,000 participants. The pathogens were selected based on their known associations with cancer and other chronic non-communicable diseases.
Nightingale Health is currently performing an NMR-metabolomics assay from blood samples collected at baseline assessment and at the first repeat assessment visit. This platform measures over 200 metabolites, which will provide detailed data on circulating lipids, lipoprotein subclasses, fatty acid composition and various other low-molecular metabolites. Data for 127,000 were made available in 2021.
Telomere length is a chromosomal marker of biological age. It is being measured in DNA extracted from blood samples collected at baseline assessment and at the first repeat assessment visit. This assay is being performed by a research team at the University of Leicester (through an access application). These data are available to researchers via the Data Showcase.
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