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UK opens Biobank to medical researchers

Makes database of anonymised information on more than 500,000 participants available online to public health researchers

The UK has completed the first phase of its Biobank project and is making its database of anonymised information on more than 500,000 participants available online to public health researchers.

The Biobank was officially launched several years ago and is fast becoming the largest, most comprehensive collection of health and lifestyle data.

It will be used to help scientists understand why some people get illnesses like heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia and arthritis and others do not.

People enrolled in the Biobank are aged between 40 and 69 and donated samples of blood, urine and saliva for long-term storage and analysis, including genetic testing.

They also had a wide range of measurements taken at enrolment, including blood pressure, pulse rate, height, weight, body fat, lung function, bone density, grip strength, arterial stiffness, vision, hearing and general levels of fitness. Follow-up testing will gauge their health status over the coming years.

Researchers who want to access the database need to register with the Biobank and submit details of their proposed research projects, which will be assessed by a committee. Access to stored samples can be arranged for a fee.

Research carried out using the Biobank data must be published and the results added to the database so other researchers can draw on the findings.

Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, said: "It has huge potential for future generations and will help us understand how our children and our children's children can live longer, healthier lives."

Meanwhile, this week the government has also launched its e-health service the Clincial Practice Research Datalink, which will give life sciences companies unprecedented access to large sets of anonymised NHS patient data.

30th March 2012

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