Researchers in 100 countries around the world are registered with UK Biobank and are using it to answer new and important questions about how to improve our health and prevent disease.
Please see examples below of recent research findings from around the world through the use of UK Biobank.
Protective genes against obesity and diabetes
Institute: Regeneron Genetics Centre
Data used: Exome sequencing data for over 450,000 participants, and imaging data for 46,000 participants
Findings: Scientists identified 16 genes associated with fat distribution, from which the INHBE gene was linked to around 28% lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, a lower waist-to-hip ratio and a more favourable metabolic profile i.e. lower liver enzymes, triglyceride levels and blood glucose levels. This could lead to the development of drugs that mimic this genetic variant, which may be beneficial in reducing metabolic disease like diabetes.
Links between social isolation, loneliness and dementia
Institute: Fudan University
Data used: Health records data and lifestyle questionnaire data for 460,000 participants, and neuroimaging data from 32,000 participants
Findings: Socially isolated individuals, rather than those who feel lonely, were found to have a 26% increased likelihood of developing dementia and had changes in the brain structures associated with memory, which may explain the association between social isolation, cognition and dementia.
Reproductive health and dementia risk
Institute: The George Institute for Global Health
Data used: Lifestyle and physical measures
Findings: Women’s reproductive factors have been associated with the risk of dementia; however, these findings remain uncertain. Using data from UK Biobank, early and late menarche, and younger age at first birth were associated with a greater dementia risk. Ever been pregnant, ever had an abortion, longer reproductive span and later menopause were associated with a lower risk of all-cause dementia, after controlling for key confounders. Hysterectomy was associated with a higher risk of dementia, whereas the contraceptive pill resulted in a reduced risk of dementia. More work is needed to understand the associations between number of children and dementia, as the risk appeared similar for both male and female parents.
Genetic risk of dementia and social isolation
Institute: University of Helsinki, Helsinki
Data used: Self-reported social isolation data and electronic health records
Findings: Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with increased risk of dementia, but it is not known to what extent a genetic risk of dementia has an effect. Overall, 8.6% of participants reported that they were socially isolated and 5.5% were lonely. After follow-up of over 8 years, the findings indicate that there is no associated risk of dementia with loneliness, but that those participants who were socially isolated and had high genetic risk were most at risk of developing dementia.
Covid-19 and changes to brain structure
Institute: University of Oxford
Data used: Brain imaging data
Findings: Brain regions related to smell show a decline following mild COVID-19 infection. Researchers used imaging scans to capture both pre- and post-infection data from around 2,000 UK Biobank participants. Findings revealed tissue damage and shrinkage in areas related to smell, and a reduction in participants’ abilities to perform complex tasks. A key question for future brain imaging studies is to see if this brain tissue damage resolves over the longer term.