While pop-culture hits like Orphan Black, Gattaca and Black Mirror draw us in with their portrayal of genetic studies paired with murky ethics, the real world of genetic research is a different playing field altogether. One generally marred by lack of funding, high costs, limited genetic material and prohibitive time costs.
The ambitious U.K. Biobank project however has its eyes set on changing all of that – and much more. Scroll down to see 3 major ways U.K. Biobank is changing the present of research and the future of health:
Sheer size and scale
Set up as a national and international health and research resource, U.K. Biobank, in the simplest terms, is a massive database of genetic information stored for scientific research on health and the origins of disease.
However, such a simplistic description doesn’t do justice to the project, which launched in 2006 with a call to the public to donate genetic material. The British public answered enthusiastically, with 1 in 125 people participating in the project that collected samples and measurements from 500,000 people between the ages of 49 and 60.
The unparalleled amount of data – 14 terabytes to be precise – was released in July, and studies based on U.K. Biobank data have continued to stream in at a steady pace ever since.
Equal access and affordable cost
Not only does U.K. Biobank offer up an incredible amount of data, it provides it all to any interested scientists involved in legitimate health research. Registered scientists can access a specific amount or all the data, depending on their needs, paying only for what they require.
Costs are also low, with full access clocking in at a few thousand dollars, meaning a global pharma company and a junior university researcher can access the exact same wealth of data for the exact same cost. Furthermore, any new information is released to all parties at the same time – to the minute.
Josephine Wesley becomes the 20,000th UK Biobank participant to be scanned. Thanks to everyone who has participated so far. Our goal 100,000 gets nearer every day! #research #Health pic.twitter.com/ikn7a0qRxM
— UK Biobank (@uk_biobank) November 22, 2017
Continued data collection
While U.K. Biobank’s full data release in July earlier this year represented the culmination of 11 years of work, it was by no means, the last chapter in this almost futuristic story.
While genetic material and measurements have been taken from 500,000 individuals, U.K. Biobank is currently embarked on an ambitious mission to image (scan) 100,000 participants, with other initiatives studying the blood chemistry of samples, or correlating with medical records.
Future projects include an online survey system that will look at factors such as lifestyle, diet, and work history among participants, while Regeneron and pharmaceutical giant GSK are set to complete Biobank’s initial genotyping by fully sequencing all participants’ DNA. In return, the two partners will receive exclusive access to their results for 9 months, after which all data will have to be made available to Biobank’s entire research community.
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