In a momentous landmark for medical research, UK Biobank has unveiled incredible new data from whole genome sequencing of its half a million participants, work supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The data are set to play a key role in the discovery of new diagnostics, treatments, and cures. Uniquely, it is also available to approved researchers worldwide, via a protected database containing anonymised data.
This abundance of genomic data is unparalleled. But what cements it as a defining moment for the future of healthcare is its use in combination with the existing wealth of data UK Biobank has collected over the past 15 years, which includes: lifestyle, whole-body imaging scans, health information, and proteins found in the blood.
The pilot study which sequenced the whole genomes of the first 50,000 UK Biobank participants was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC). The sequencing for the remaining 450,000 participants was completed as part of the Innovate UK-led Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine Challenge.
Professor Sir Rory Collins FRS FMedSci, Principal Investigator at UK Biobank said: “This is a veritable treasure trove for approved scientists undertaking health research, and I expect it to have transformative results for diagnoses, treatments and cures around the globe.
The addition of sequencing data comes after a series of great leaps made using the vast UK Biobank biomedical database. These leaps include:
- finding genes associated with protection against obesity and type 2 diabetes, which has the potential to lead to the development of new drugs
- identifying individuals at very high genetic risk for diseases such as heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer, which may help with screening
- a link between activity and Parkinson’s that can predict the disease up to seven years before diagnosis from smartwatch data, potentially leading to early intervention.
Whole genome sequencing data on this scale, combined with UK Biobank’s existing data and biological samples, will result in extraordinary biomedical innovations, including: more targeted drug discovery and development; discovering thousands of disease-causing non-coding genetic variants; accelerating precision medicine; and understanding the biological underpinnings of disease.
To date, over 30,000 researchers from more than 90 countries have registered to use UK Biobank, with over 9,000 peer-reviewed papers published as a result. Researchers are given the tools and computing power to analyse the de-identified data via UK Biobank’s secure, cloud-based Research Analysis Platform.