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Genetic data from half a million released for research

28 Jul 2017

A scientist’s ‘treasure trove’ of genetic data on half a million people was made available for research last week by the UK Biobank study.

The information, having been checked and strengthened over the past two years by genetics experts at Oxford University, was released to researchers on 20 July.

Scientists will be able to use the data to investigate, among a host of other things, whether changes in DNA we inherit from our parents are associated with particular diseases. They will be able to carry out more sophisticated analyses of our genes to help unlock the causes of disease and explore how our genetics, lifestyle, diet and environment come together to affect our health.

All 500,000 UK Biobank participants provided samples of blood for long-term storage and analysis, when they volunteered for the project from 2006 to 2010. In 2013-14, more than 800,000 carefully selected regions of the genome were recorded by US-based company Affymetrix, in a process known as genotyping. This enables researchers to build a picture of the DNA of each participant. Although individual participants cannot be identified through this process, it allows researchers to look at links between different genotypes and health and disease, on which information has also been collected.

“We believe that this is the single largest release of a genetic dataset in terms of number of individuals genotyped,” says Mark Effingham, UK Biobank Chief Information Officer. “The dataset is vast, but we hope it will drive innovative and exciting studies to transform research.”

Dr Joe McNamara, the MRC’s Head of Population Health, added: “We are delighted to see the release of the full UK Biobank dataset. This builds on the earlier release of genotyping data for 150,000 participants and will enable further, more precise, studies looking at the genetics of common diseases and conditions, such as mental health, hypertension or the impact of smoking on lung function.

UK Biobank is a great example of how long-term strategic investments made by the MRC in partnership with other funders can yield far-reaching benefits for all.”

UK Biobank is principally funded by the MRC and Wellcome with additional funding from the Department of Health, the Welsh and Scottish Governments, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK. It is already one of the most detailed prospective studies of its kind. Anonymised data on participants are available to approved health researchers anywhere in the world.

The study includes information about participants’ health and well-being, key body measurements, their diet, occupational history, mental health and activity levels. Regular updates from hospital and GP records, and health statistics boost the strength of the resource.

Recently the study embarked on work to image the brains, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems of 100,000 participants. Over the next few years these data will be made available to researchers from around the world to help generate new insights into chronic diseases and develop more targeted treatments for a wide range of common conditions.

Due to a problem identified with the way that some of the data in the release were imputed, some of the data are being looked at again and will be re-released. Please direct any questions to UK Biobank: access@ukbiobank.ac.uk   

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  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Other
  • Strategic objectives: Securing impact from medical research, Aim: Picking research that delivers
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  • Type: News article