UKBiobankAhead of an explanatory meeting event in London on the 26 June, Andrew Trehearne, Head of Communications at UK Biobank, explains more about the resource and why researchers should get involved.

Imagine a huge car assembly plant, where you get to design your own vehicle from a vast array of parts on display. It might seem implausible, but in the world of health research it is not such a far-fetched idea.

Indeed, UK Biobank is at the leading edge of a new kind of research revolution, much like the invention of the motorcar 130 years ago. The UK Biobank resource has been assembled over the past eight years to provide health researchers with a wide range of tools to undertake research on the most common – and sometimes intractable – diseases of the 21st century. From migraine and tinnitus to dementia, depression, bone disease and cancer, UK Biobank has taken as inspiration for its data collection the industrialised processes that were so important to the rise of the car. And that data on 500,000 participants who joined the project at 22 assessment centres in England, Scotland and Wales between 2006 and 2010 is just a finger touch away for bona fide researchers working on health related research in the public interest.

Equipment at UK Biobank, Cheshire

Robotics-driven equipment at UK Biobank, Cheshire. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Automation has been key to the resource so far – from the storage of more than 10 million samples of blood, urine and saliva, to the systems for following health (such as cancer and death statistics) and now for analysing the thousands of eye photos, brain scans and other enhancements being developed. New technology, particularly online, means that UK Biobank can retain contact with many participants and ask them to help further with, say, additional information on diet and cognitive function. Genetic data and the results of a wide range of standard assays will be added to the mix over the coming year. The data are provided anonymously to scientists for specific research projects, once they have registered with the resource. Their results are also returned to UK Biobank when their study is completed, so that other scientists can benefit from them.

UK Biobank is funded primarily by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust charity. The resource is open access – so researchers from the UK and overseas, academia and industry can use it. Data and samples are available, as is the possibility of re-contacting participants, though special care will be taken when planning to use depletable resources.

A meeting is planned in London on 26 June 2014, at which it will be possible to find out much more about how to access the UK Biobank resource and the data it holds. The more it is used, and the longer it accrues data, the more valuable it becomes to the research community. So whether you are a Chrysler, Mercedes or a Ford of the research world, consider joining on the day, or follow the event via the website. Meanwhile feel free to take a look at the summary data contained within the UK Biobank Data Showcase or register to use the resource.

Equipment at UKBiobank, Cheshire

Robotics-driven equipment at UK Biobank, Cheshire. Credit: Wellcome Library, London