Government, scientists and industrialists are discussing the creation of a national genetic database for the UK. Enthusiasm for the project is mounting following the recommendations made by a panel set up by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. The database, called the UK Population and Biomedical collection, would allow scientists to investigate the genetic and environmental causes of common illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
Professor Tom Meade, chairman of the panel, said it was likely to back a project that would look at lifestyle details, DNA samples and medical records from at least half a million UK residents. Researchers may be able to use the knowledge it generates to develop new drugs, and to find out why many existing drugs help some patients but not others. 'We are not doing this for idle curiosity', says Professor Meade. 'We are setting up this scheme so we can improve the medical treatment of British people.'
The project still has to be approved by an NHS (National Health Service) ethics committee, but everyone involved is confident it will be launched sometime next year. 'Patient confidentiality and consent will be the key' said Health Minister Yvette Cooper last week. 'That is why there will be widespread consultation before any decision is made.'
The database will operate on an 'opt-in' basis: 'Involvement is going to be entirely voluntary' says Professor Meade.'