Background UK Biobank was created as an open-access resource for the investigation of the genetic, environmental and lifestyle determinants of a wide range of diseases of middle age and later life with the aim of improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Approximately 500,000 participants aged 40–69 years attended one of 22 assessment centres located throughout England, Scotland and Wales between 2006 and 2010.
Data Extensive questionnaire data, physical measures and biological samples were collected at recruitment, with repeat assessments in subsets of the cohort every few years. Enhanced data collection is ongoing, including genotyping and biochemical assays in the full cohort, web-based questionnaires focusing on specific topics, such as diet, cognitive function and occupational history, as well as multimodal imaging and physical activity monitoring in large subsets (for 100,000 participants). All participants provided consent for their health to be followed-up through linkage to electronic health records, such as hospital episodes statistics and national death and cancer registries; linkage to primary care records and other health-related data is on the horizon. Applications to use the resource can be submitted by any bona-fide researcher both in the UK and internationally to conduct health-related research that is in the public good.
Results Since recruitment, over 9,000 deaths, 15,000 incident malignant cancers and 340,000 incident hospital inpatient visits have accrued, and the range of diseases that can be studied reliably will widen as the numbers of events of different types of health outcomes increase during continued follow-up. Since March 2012, 2,500 researchers have successfully registered to use the resource, 500 applications have been submitted and 200 projects are underway. The nature of the research reflects the breadth and depth of the data available (with two-thirds of applications requesting genetic, lifestyle and health outcome data), with the most research interest in cardiovascular outcomes (30%), cancer (20%), cognition/dementia (15%) and mental health (8%).
Conclusion UK Biobank has been established primarily for the conduct of prospective studies investigating the relevance of a wide range of exposures to health outcomes that occur during long-term follow-up. The successful recruitment and ongoing enhanced data collection efforts, together with linkage to a wide range of electronic health records makes UK Biobank a unique and unparalleled resource for public health research on a global scale.
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