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Medical study to recruit 500,000

A research project said to be the world’s most detailed medical study has signed up the first of the 500,000 volunteers it is seeking in the UK. The UK Biobank aims to become a hugely significant resource for disease research by tracking the long-term health of a wide sample of people aged between 40 and 69. Researchers hope data about participants’ genes, environment and lifestyle will provide insights into the causes and treatment of diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The project was announced seven years ago but it was only yesterday that the first centre opened in Manchester to collect blood and urine samples and data from about 45 people. Recruitment of the study group is to cost £62m over four years.

UK Biobank will follow participants through routine health records over many years. Organisers say about one-quarter of the UK population of the relevant age will eventually be invited to participate, in the expectation that about one in 10 people will agree.

The Biobank’s scientists say long-term tracking of health is a powerful way to learn about diseases, comparing their project to a previous study, led by Sir Richard Doll, which showed in 1950 that smoking caused lung cancer.

About 15 million samples will be stored for decades at about -200°C.