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Manchester First for UK Biobank

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A multi-million pound visionary medical project that will recruit 500,000 people across Britain to help find out much more about curing many life threatening and debilitating diseases gets underway in Manchester. UK Biobank will recruit people aged 40-69 and track their health over the course of the next 30 years or more.

In the first phase of a four-year recruitment process, about 10,000 letters asking people to take part in UK Biobank will arrive on residents’ door mats today and over the course of the next few days. 

Tens of thousands more invitations will be sent throughout the course of the year to people across Manchester, asking them to join this exciting project. A successful pilot study to check the feasibility of this huge undertaking took place in Altrincham (south Manchester) last year.

Hosted by the University of Manchester, UK Biobank is one of the biggest and most detailed public health research initiatives of our time. It will provide a valuable resource for research into a wide range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, mental illness, Parkinson’s disease, joint and dental disease and many other life-threatening and debilitating conditions.

Researchers, including some of the most eminent scientists from around the world, believe that UK Biobank will be an extraordinarily important resource for scientists for many years to come. It will help doctors and other medical researchers to develop a better understanding of the causes of many common diseases and to improve their prevention and treatment. 

People in Manchester who agree to take part in UK Biobank will attend a 90 minute assessment at a special centre in Hulme, south Manchester. They will be asked to allow UK Biobank to follow them through routine health records over many years. The assessment centre will open in April.

Participants will be asked about their current health and lifestyle and will have a number of measurements taken, such as blood pressure, weight, lung function and bone density (1).  They will also be asked to give small samples of blood and urine. Though not a health check, participants will leave with a list of personal health-related measurements and some indication of how they compare to standard values. 

Dr Tim Peakman, UK Biobank Executive Director, based at the charity’s headquarters in Stockport, said: “We can’t do this without people’s help. Though UK Biobank may not directly benefit those who take part it will help our children and our children’s children to live longer, healthier lives. A willingness to help others in this altruistic way will, I hope, be a powerful motivation for many people to take part.

“At the assessment centre we will obtain the consent of people who want to join UK Biobank and collect what we call baseline information about their health and wellbeing. Along with the blood and urine samples, this will provide important data for scientists of the future when they are trying to work out what causes some people, and not others, to develop a particular disease.

“The UK Biobank resource will help untangle the complex interplay of nature (that is, genes) and nurture (such as lifestyle) in the development of many different diseases. Its goal is not to focus on genes alone, which may be better done through other sorts of study.”  

Around 15 million blood and urine samples will eventually be stored for decades in specially designed laboratories near Manchester, at temperatures down to about -200°C.

UK Biobank is not just for the fit and healthy. “It is important that we involve the whole population. So if people who are not in good health receive an invitation to take part we would very much welcome them as participants in this remarkable health project,” said Dr Peakman.

Rory Collins, British Heart Foundation Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Oxford University, and UK Biobank’s Principal Investigator, said: “UK Biobank is a project of which the whole of Britain can truly be proud. We are talking to lots of British scientists about the ways this resource can help their research and, internationally, advising others who want to set up similar projects in their own countries.

“Health research has taken enormous strides in the past decade and we know a lot about how our bodies work, but we need to find out more. In setting up UK Biobank for researchers in the future - those who may only be in primary or junior school now or not even born – we are establishing the blood-based resource to do just that, and making a significant contribution to improving the health of future generations.”
Health Minister Lord Hunt said: “This vital project is only possible because of the unique role that the National Health Service plays in our lives, providing comprehensive health care for people throughout the UK. I urge all those who are invited to participate in UK Biobank to do so and be part of a project that will help future generations lead lives freer of disease."

Laura Roberts, Manchester PCT's Chief Executive, and a co-signatory on the letters going out, described UK Biobank as a visionary and exciting project which has enormous implications for the future health of the whole population. “I would encourage all Manchester people who receive an invitation to take part. Manchester has some of the most challenging health problems in the country and therefore the most potential to benefit from the vital information we could get from this research.”

Mike Farrar, Chief Executive of NHS North West said: “NHS North West fully supports the work of UK Biobank and its role in improving the health of people living in the region. This medical project highlights some of the excellent initiatives that are taking place to transform public health.”