Under Embargo Until: 00.01 Hours, Monday 29 April 2002


Funding for the world's largest study of the role of nature and nurture in health and disease was announced today (Monday 29 April 2002). The Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health are providing an initial L45 million for the UK biobank project - a study of genes, environment and health.

Using genetic information from DNA samples and the medical records of 500,000 volunteers, aged 45-69, the study will capitalise on the knowledge from the Human Genome Project, which made available the genetic book of life.

Many of the world's most devastating disorders, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease are caused by complex interactions between genes, environment and lifestyle. The combination of volunteers' genetic, medical and lifestyle information will position the biobank study as a powerful resource to help researchers unravel the origins of these important diseases.

Information from the study will ultimately lead to improved diagnosis, treatment and preventative strategies for the many disorders that may manifest themselves in later life, and whose origins may be influenced by both nature and nurture.

Dr Mike Dexter, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "The UK biobank is a natural progression of the Trust's involvement in the Human Genome Project. I for one would be willing to become a volunteer and donate my DNA to the study. I may not reap the health benefits in my lifetime, but those of us contributing to the project can rest assured that our involvement will provide a better life for our children and grandchildren."

Professor Sir George Radda, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said: "This exciting project may one day herald a new era of medicine. In 20 years time, we may see individualised approaches to disease prevention and treatment. Once we understand the genetic bases of various diseases and the genetic differences between individuals that may affect their responses, it may become possible for a GP to prescribe drugs or other treatments designed specifically for people's own genetic makeup."

Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "The UK is leading the world with this exciting project. This Government is enthusiastic and fully committed to this project and will be closely monitoring the outputs. The potential for this project to result in improvements to the health of the UK population is enormous. It under-scores the Government's current investment for a better patient-focused health service."

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Sainsbury said: "The UK is in a unique position to take forward a study of this kind, thanks to its excellence in biomedical research and the NHS. I endorse the approach which is being taken to the ethical safeguards. The results from the project and the process of putting it in place should help keep the UK at the forefront of modern health research and technology development, with associated benefits."

Professor Sir John Pattison, Director of Research and Development at the Department of Health, said: "This initiative will create a crucial national resource for clinical researchers that will help them to better understand susceptibility to the common diseases of adult life. In turn, it will help us to know how to adopt healthier lifestyles and so reduce the burden of ill-health."

The funding partners will continue consulting with the public, health professionals, scientists, pressure groups and industry to develop an ethical framework for the project. The latest consultation report is published on the Wellcome Trust and MRC web sites ( and (


For more information, contact Shaun Griffin in the Wellcome Trust Press Office on 020 7611 8612, Carolan Davidge in the MRC Press Office on 020 7637 6011 and Alison Pitts-Bland in the Department of Health Media Centre on 020 7210 5230.


The Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council have each committed an initial L20m to the project with La5m from the Department of Health.

The current proposal for the UK biobank study is for a small number of regional centres to recruit volunteers with the overall study centrally managed and co-ordinated. The co-ordinating centre will be led by a project director, responsible to the funding bodies.

There will also be a separate body or committee, independent of both the users of the information and the scientists involved in developing it, that would be responsible to the public, the research participants and other stakeholders for ensuring that the samples and the data collected are used responsibly and within the terms of the consent obtained from the volunteers.

Initial expressions of interest from potential regional centres and for the co-ordinating centre will be invited in the next couple of months so that detailed bids can be developed over the summer and early autumn. These centres will be involved in piloting all aspects of the study and in developing a fully costed protocol within the next two to three years.

The funders are adopting key principles in their approach to the study. Informed consent from all volunteer participants will be a key feature of this study and ongoing information on research projects undertaken using the resource will be provided. Continuous consultation with all audiences from patients to healthcare professionals will take place. The information and samples collected will be held in public ownership for public benefit and there will not be exclusive access to it by any one organisation or commercial company.

The Wellcome Trust is an independent, research-funding charity, established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936. The Trust's mission is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health. For more information, visit

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a national organisation funded by the UK tax-payer. Its business is medical research aimed at improving human health; everyone stands to benefit from the outputs. The research it supports and the scientists it trains meet the needs of the health services, the pharmaceutical and other health-related industries and the academic world. MRC has funded work which has led to some of the most significant discoveries and achievements in medicine in the UK. About half of the MRC's expenditure of over L367 million is invested in its 50 Institutes, Units and Centres, where it employs its own research staff. The remaining half goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools. Web site at:


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