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 of extending the number of participants to 50,000 over the next five years.
The study is being carried out by the schools of medicine at the universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee, in collaboration with six other academic institutions. It is being funded by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Funding Council, and aims to tease apart genetic and environmental influences on health. Professor Andrew Morris, chairman of the project's scientific committee, said that 'we need to understand how people's genes work with environmental issues such as diet and smoking, and why some people develop certain problems while others remain healthy'.
The first phase of the study will cost an estimated £6.2 million. Participants will be asked to provide information about their diet and lifestyle and their medical history, as well as samples of blood, which will provide DNA. Any consenting first-degree relatives aged over 18 will also be included in the study, in order to build up a large, family-based cohort.
One of the first volunteers, 64-year-old Alex Whyte, became involved after his daughter Fiona was told about the project at her diabetes clinic at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. Mr Whyte's wife Agnes and his other daughter Louise are also now enrolled in the study. 'It is really interesting to see what they are doing and I am wholly supportive of it', he said, adding 'if this is as successful as the people behind believe then they may be able to develop cures for some diseases in the future'.
Health Minister Andy Kerr welcomed the project, saying 'if we can identify groups of people at risk of particular conditions, such as heart disease, osteoporosis or mental illness, we can give them the support they need early in life to avoid problems'.
Another large-scale medical project, which aims to collect DNA samples and medical information from half a million Britons, is to be launched within weeks. The UK Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, wants to recruit up to 500,000 unrelated volunteers aged between 45-69 years. The study, jointly funded by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC), Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the Wellcome Trust, hopes to identify the causes of common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease and diabetes.