The UK Biobank project, hailed as the beginning of a 'new era in medicine', has secured initial funding of £45 million. The money comes from a collaboration between the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome Trust and Department of Health.
Genetic details of 500,000 volunteers, all aged between 45 and 69, will be collected and stored in a central pool, as part of the world's largest study of the role of genetics, environment and lifestyle in health and disease. It is hoped that the scheme, along with the data acquired from the Human Genome Project, will provide information that will assist in the development of improved diagnostic techniques and new treatments for a range of diseases.
It is hoped that, in the long term, information gleaned from the project will also enable preventative measures to be introduced. Also, according to Professor Sir George Radda, chief executive of the MRC, it is hoped that 'in 20 years time, we may see individualised approaches to disease prevention and treatment'.
The Government has expressed its support for the project. Health Minister Lord Hunt described the UK as 'leading the world' and stated that the UK Government is enthusiastic and fully committed to this project and will be closely monitoring the outputs'. However, other groups have condemned the project, saying that not enough safeguards are in place. Helen Wallace, of GeneWatch, said that 'there are real concerns about the commercial interests driving this research' and that legal safeguards need to be in place before any work begins. David King, co-ordinator of Human Genetics Alert, said that the group was concerned that the ethics of the project had not been properly discussed. But Biobank says that it will be guided by an independent committee to ensure the responsible and ethical use of the data it obtains.