The UK Biobank was set up in order to understand how we stay healthy. Blood, urine and saliva samples were collected from 500,000 people aged between 40-69 years between 2006 and 2010 and have been used for a wide range of studies aimed at improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of illnesses – including cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, eye disorders, depression and forms of dementia.
An example is the pioneering work of Professor Christine Harrison in understanding how particular changes in the chromosomes of a leukaemia cell can predict how a child will respond to treatment.
The 100,000 genomes project was set up in 2012 to discover the causes of a wide range of rare genetic diseases (and several forms of cancer). The aim is to read the entire genetic code from 70,000 patients or their relatives in order to detect which genes are involved in producing rare inherited diseases. This will lead to more accurate diagnosis and possibly, in time, to new forms of treatment.
What is my sample going to be used for?
Your sample may be used in many different research projects. I’ve selected one or two examples from my own experience but there are many more which I could have chosen.
I have concentrated on biobanks- collections of samples made available for several different projects, but samples may also be requested for specific research projects and as part of drug trials. Information regarding your donation should be available when you are asked for your consent.
Samples are essential for the study of most forms of disease. For example, in order to understand how dementia arises researchers need to look at normal and diseased brain under the microscope and to undertake laboratory tests, including the analysis of DNA (the genetic code) and proteins (the building blocks of the cell).
The Medical Research Council have funded a network of Brain Banks throughout the UK to collect brain tissue after death. To find out more visit their website
Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia
Thankfully cancer is rare in children. In addition, due to research over the last 30-40 years, most children can now be cured. This wouldn’t have been possible without access to samples of cancer cells for research which has helped to guide treatment.
Biobanks of children’s cancer samples have been established to gather enough samples to make meaningful research possible. In the UK the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group Tissue Bank and the Bloodwise Cell Bank have been providing samples for research for many years, enabling research teams to understand how cancer and leukaemia (a cancer of the blood cells) arises in children.