UK Biobank is a store of information about the health of 500,000 people. It is an international resource for researchers studying a range of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and dementia. By looking at the data, researchers hope to gain new insights into what causes diseases to develop, how they can be prevented and how they should be treated.

Why was this work needed?

The way genes, lifestyle and environment can affect the development or prevention of disease is better understood now than ever before. However, there are still many unanswered questions about what causes disease and how prevention, diagnosis and treatment can be improved.

What happened?

Between 2006 and 2010, UK Biobank recruited 500,000 UK participants aged between 40 and 69. These people voluntarily provided detailed information about themselves, undergoing various measurements (like measuring their weight and blood pressure) and supplying urine, blood and saliva samples. They also agreed to their future health being followed through linkage to medical records.

This information has been used to form a health research resource that international researchers can request to conduct health-related research that is in the public interest.

What are the benefits?

UK Biobank aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, eye disorders, depression and forms of dementia. It is a resource that can be used in individual research projects, and so supports a wide variety of projects worldwide.

Recently, it has been used on projects as diverse as examining the impact of ageing on the brain by comparing participants’ brain scans, and examining how a baby’s size at birth, and even their time of birth, affects their health as they grow up.

What type of data is involved?

The individuals who agreed to take part in UK Biobank provided data about themselves through physical measurements (such as blood pressure, cognitive function tests and more recently, imaging scans) and surveys that ask about lifestyle and medical factors. They also provided samples of their blood, urine and saliva. Participants also gave consent for their health to be followed-up via their medical records.

Individuals volunteered to participate in UK Biobank and gave written consent for their data to be collected and used for health-related research. Before data is released to a researcher, it is de-personalised.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

UK Biobank was established by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, Department of Health, Scottish Government and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. It has also had funding from the Welsh Assembly Government, the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK.

Where can I go for more information?

UK Biobank