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UK scientist blasts Biobank project

06 September 2004

By BioNews

Appeared in BioNews 274

Sir Alec Jeffreys, the geneticist who invented the DNA fingerprinting technique, has expressed concerns over the cost and effectiveness of the UK Biobank project. In an article published in the Daily Telegraph, he said he has 'a real concern' that nothing useful will come out of the research. He also warned that the start-up costs of £62 million are 'the thin end of the wedge', and that the overall bill could be closer to £10 billion. John Newton, the chief executive of Biobank, rejected the criticisms, saying: 'It is powerful scientifically and cost-effective'.

UK Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, will collect and store DNA samples and medical information from up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 45-69 years. The aim of the project, jointly funded by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC), Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust, is to study the role of gene and environment in health and disease. It hopes to identify factors involved in common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease and diabetes. But Jeffreys thinks that money could be better spent on smaller projects, looking at individual diseases.

According to Jeffreys, to get the 'full richness of genetic information' from all of the half a million participants means using millions of different genetic markers. 'Say it costs a penny a time, which is cheaper than anything at the moment, the overall bill comes out to £10 billion', he said. He also questioned whether the study would be effective in teasing out the subtle genetic factors influencing disease, and added that a similar ongoing project in Iceland 'made a lot more sense'. Iceland's Health Sector Database includes genetic information, detailed family history information and medical records from the majority of its 270,000 inhabitants.

In answer to Jeffreys' criticisms, Newton said that Biobank would complement smaller, family-based genetic studies, adding that there was 'no way of answering the questions that we will answer other than doing a large-scale prospective study'. The project has also been praised by UK human genome scientist Sir John Sulston, who said it builds on 'the public resources of the British National Health Service and the Human Genome Project for the good of all'. Newton is due to speak about the Biobank project later this week, at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

£62m Biobank may not be worth it, says professor
The Daily Telegraph | 06 September 2004


15 March 2006 - by BioNews 
A project to collect DNA samples and medical information from half a million Britons was launched this week, after years of planning. The UK Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, eventually wants to recruit up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 40-69 years. Initially, 3000 people living in the...
09 February 2006 - by BioNews 
Two projects aiming to pinpoint genetic and other influences on health have been launched in the US. The Genes and Environment Initiative (GEI), based at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will look at genetic variations and measure environmental factors such as exposure to toxins. The other initiative is a...
02 February 2006 - by BioNews 
A new project looking at the influence of genes on common diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, depression and schizophrenia in Scottish people has begun recruiting volunteers. The 'Generation Scotland: Scottish Family Health Study' will initially recruit 15,000 Scots aged between 35 and 55, with the eventual aim...
23 January 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
In this week's BioNews, we report that the UK Biobank project is gearing up to begin recruiting volunteers - half a million of them. Potential participants aged 40-69 will be randomly selected via health registers, and asked to take part in the study. If they consent, they will need to...
20 January 2006 - by BioNews 
A project to collect DNA samples and medical information from half a million Britons is to be launched within weeks, New Scientist magazine reports. The UK Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, wants to recruit up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 45-69 years. The aim of the project...

07 June 2004 - by BioNews 
Scientists in the US are hoping to secure funding for a 'biobank' project, similar to those being carried out in Iceland, Estonia and the UK. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) wants to collect genetic and medical information on half a million volunteers, to study the effects of genes...
26 September 2003 - by BioNews 
UK Biobank this week outlined a new Ethics and Governance framework for its massive data-gathering exercise. The project aims to build a major research resource to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness by following, they hope, half a million volunteers aged 45-69 for many years. Volunteers' test results...
28 July 2003 - by BioNews 
According to the UK's Observer newspaper, the UK Biobank is to begin recruiting its first volunteers next year. Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, is a project that aims to collect and store DNA samples and medical information from up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 45-69 years. The...

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