UK Biobank Ramps Up Whole Genome Sequencing

The use of genomic data to advance healthcare is something I’ve touched upon many times before.  The UK Biobank are a world leader in the field, and they’ve continued to make waves with the recent announcement of an initiative to sequence the full genome of 50,000 volunteers.

The project, which is being funded by a £30 million grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC) is another step towards the full sequencing of all 500,000 UK Biobank participants.

Biobank data is already being used by over 6,500 scientists around the world, with an estimated 400 peer reviewed papers produced as a result.

“The UK Biobank partnership is the MRC’s largest single commitment to understanding the contribution of genetics, environment and lifestyle in maintaining good health and complements our numerous in-depth research with people affected by specific diseases.   Across almost all areas of health – from bone and joint health to cancer, dementia and heart disease – this programme, supported by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will help us discover and develop more precise treatments, and in the longer term help us predict and prevent disease,” the MRC say.

The UK Biobank have made impressive strides in the use of health data in recent years.  They recently announced the release of a large dataset of mental health data, whilst they have also partnered with GSK in the UK and Regeneron in the US to sequence the exomes of 50,000 people.  The first data from this project is expected to be available by the end of 2018, with a subsequent consortium pledging to sequence the remaining 450,000 volunteers.  This larger effort is predicted to be completed by the end of 2019.

In addition to providing genomic data, volunteers also provide a range of other information about their health and wellbeing, including blood pressure, weight, blood and urine samples, and information about their work, cognitive function, diet and gut health.

If the volunteers consent, this data is then linked up to their electronic medical records to correlate it with hospital statistics and other data contained in the EMR.  All of this data is anonymized to protect the identification of the individuals concerned.

The potential for genomic data to make an impact on health is considerable, and it’s pleasing to see the UK Biobank leading the way.