According to the UK's Observer newspaper, the UK Biobank is to begin recruiting its first volunteers next year. Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, is a project that aims to collect and store DNA samples and medical information from up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 45-69 years. The aim of the £45 million undertaking, jointly funded by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC), Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust, is to study the role of genes and environment in health and disease. It hopes to identify factors involved in common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease and diabetes.
A pilot group of men and women in the required age group will be contacted by their doctors and asked if they will consent to having their medical details preserved in the Biobank. If they agree, they will give their full medical history and a blood sample for DNA, and will answer a questionnaire about their lifestyle. Volunteers will be contacted every ten years so that the scientists involved have up-to-date information about their health. The scientists will look at what genetic or environmental factors play a part in any conditions the volunteers develop.
The Wellcome Trust said that the ethical issues raised by the project were still being debated, and more details would be released. But it stated that concerns of the volunteers about confidentiality issues would be met.
Professor John Bell, who chairs one of the project's scientific committees, said that Biobank 'is going to generate a lot of important scientific information', adding 'people need to know about this, about what it means. We now have a fantastic opportunity for research'.