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UK Biobank: A Valuable UK Asset

UK Biobank: a valuable UK asset

UK Biobank continues to demonstrate its significant impact on the UK health and life sciences sector by enabling advances in public health and medicine. For example, in recent years UK Biobank research has led to the introduction of  new targeted prevention and screening strategies in the NHS as well as influencing the Government’s reporting on COVID-19.

Influencing policy through the pandemic

During the recent coronavirus pandemic, emergency legislation allowed UK Biobank to access GP data for its 500,000 participants for scientists to conduct COVID-19 related research. These data enabled scientists to identify the genetic,  lifestyle and clinical determinants of severe COVID-19, such as obesity, prior kidney failure or previous infection.

Over 800 approved research groups accessed these data and produced over 250 papers on COVID-19, which are now available in the public domain. This research has influenced health policy (most notably the UK Government’s reporting on the differential impact of the virus on minority ethnic groups) and has demonstrated the value of an established resource like UK Biobank in contributing to our Government’s preparedness in the face of medical emergencies.

“UK Biobank has conclusively demonstrated its capacity for rapid response in a global health emergency, and carried out timely research that is critical for public health.”

Professor Bernard Keavney

Former Chair of the UK Biobank International Scientific Advisory Board

“UK Biobank data is so vast, and so detailed. It has changed the way we do research in human genetics. We are beginning not only to understand the complex genetic basis of a whole variety of devastating human diseases, but also how to better use this genetic information to understand how to predict and treat these diseases.”

Professor Nicole Soranzo

Senior Group Leader at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Paving the way to individualised healthcare

In a world first, on the back of research using UK Biobank’s genetic data, a pilot scheme has been conducted within the NHS to enable GPs to identify those at high genetic risk of cardiovascular disease.

Genetics is a known risk factor for many common diseases, including heart disease. However, until recently, it has been impossible to identify the contributory effects of multiple genetic variations across thousands of points in our DNA, each of which has a small effect on risk. Through the development of a genetic testing method known as Polygenic Risk Scores, researchers are now able to identify an individual’s risk for a given condition based on their genetic profile. 

Polygenic risk scores pave the way for a low-cost genetic test to be incorporated into primary care settings to identify people at high risk of one or more common diseases. For example, this method has shown it can identify the 8% of the population who have more than a 3-fold increased risk for coronary artery disease. These individuals could benefit more from adhering to a healthier lifestyle and starting cholesterol-lowering treatment earlier than current recommendations.

This would not be possible without you and the genetic data we have been able to make available to approved researchers. We look forward to the results of the NHS pilot at the end of 2022.

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