Biobank Project Initiated for Genetics, Disease Studies

The Scientist reports that the much-anticipated UK Biobank has begun recruiting participants—some nine years after the idea for the project. The £61 million (approximately US$107 million) study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health and the Scottish Executive, reportedly is designed to allow researchers to examine the interaction of genes, environment and disease in half a million people; however, the project has the subject of controversy.

In 2002, for example, politician Ian Gibson challenged the basis of the project, saying in a parliamentary debate that "it seems like dubious methodology to ask 50-year-olds what they had for dinner in their childhood," reported The Scientist. However, organizers of the project reportedly can quote other distinguished figures who now back the project, including Ian Gibson, former chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.

"This is an important initiative that is now developing focus and which promises to provide an invaluable resource," according to a press statement. Gibson, meanwhile, reportedly said that "Since…I've had more opportunities to discuss its aims, design and future plans…I am very confident that it will succeed."

The first 3,000 volunteers for the project, aged 40 to 69, will be recruited in the English town of Altrincham, south of Manchester. They will answer survey questions, provide small blood and urine samples and be asked to give permission for their health to be monitored over the coming decades through health service records. Their samples will be among the first to be stored at the Biobank's high tech facilities, including -80ºC freezers in Manchester. The project is aimed at producing a resource that will become increasingly valuable for medical researchers to confirm or refute associations identified by other studies, said the report.

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