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Genetic Analysis of UK Biobank Participants

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Last Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013
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UK Biobank announces plans to undertake detailed DNA analysis of its 500,000 participants to better understand the complex interaction of lifestyle and genes in causing life-threatening and disabling disorders.

This genotyping project which will cost over £20 million will examine hundreds and thousands of genetic ‘markers’ on each UK Biobank participant.  The genotyping will be undertaken by Affymetrix UK Ltd and AffymetrixInc, following an agreement signed with UK Biobank earlier today. The work will create hundreds of billions of packets of new data that will help scientists tackle disease. Data will become available over the course of the next two years.
The Medical Research Council and the Department of Health have each contributed £10m towards the project, with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) providing a further £1m.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:
“UK Biobank is a unique resource to researchers in the UK and throughout the world because it is studying such a large number of people over such a long period of time. This new investment will allow the study to truly reach its potential and maximise the value of its data. Using the most advanced analysis techniques will bring about a totally new era in our understanding of how genetics and the environment can interact to cause diseases such as dementia, perhaps years in advance of symptoms.”
Health Minister Lord Howesaid:
“Thanks to the half a million volunteers who donated their DNA, researchers will have access to a unique resource in UK Biobank.
“The significance of this new scientific work should not be under-estimated. The genetic information generated will improve our understanding of hundreds of conditions and support health and life sciences industry researchers to develop improved diagnosis and treatments.
“It shows once again how Government funding is putting the UK at the forefront of world-leading health research.”
BHF Professor Rory Collins, UK Biobank CEO and Principal Investigator, said:
“UK Biobank is pleased to join forces with Affymetrix for this next phase of the UK Biobank project. The two organizations will work closely together to ensure that world class data are provided quickly and securely to help scientists working on the causes of a wide range of life-threatening and disabling diseases.
“I urge health scientists everywhere to think carefully about how this resource could be used to help their research, and to register with UK Biobank. I am also very grateful to the half a million participants whose generosity and vision for the future has allowed this resource to grow.”
Professor Peter Donnelly, Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, at the University of Oxford, said UK Biobank’s power is in its size and the richness of information already collected on participants, coupled with this additional data from genotyping. The work will provide information on genes, but also on the DNA between them, thought to play an important role in switching them on and off.
“This research is going to provide completely new clues to the biological processes that lead to diseases, and new ideas for successful intervention and treatment.”

The work will also help to explain why some people respond better to treatments, or have worse side effects. “This is about homing in on biological mechanisms underlying disease that we’re as yet unaware of, and to disentangle those processes to tackle a wide range of common illnesses,” he said.
DNA will be extracted from blood stored by UK Biobank. Affymetrix will use the latest technologies to measure genetic variations of the 500,000 participants. The work will be done safely and securely in the US and in such a way that participant anonymity is maintained.
The genetic data will be returned to UK Biobank which will enable approved researchers registered with UK Biobank (conducting bona fide health related research in the public interest) to correlate genetic differences together with other health and lifestyle factors such as diet and activity levels to the incidence of disease.
UK Biobank recruited 500,000 participants between 2006 and 2010 from 22 assessment centres in England, Scotland and Wales. UK Biobankis a charity,funded primarily by the MRC, Department of Health, Wellcome Trust, Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly Government and the BHF.

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