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Biobank Cymru

13 Medi 2007

The people of Cardiff are being offered a unique opportunity to take part in a multi-million pound visionary medical project based at Cardiff University to help explore the causes of many life-threatening and painful diseases.

UK Biobank is asking for their help to build the most detailed health research resource of its kind, to improve the health of future generations as part of Biobank Cymru. Biobank Cymru, based at Cardiff University, is the all-Wales contribution to the UK Biobank project. Opening in Wales, this October it relies on people’s goodwill to succeed.

Researchers at Cardiff University have taken a lead in shaping the national project. The University also hosts UK Biobank’s national Participant Resource Centre - a free telephone information line staffed from 8am-7pm, six days a week.

Dr John Gallacher in the School of Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology, Statistics and Public Health is the UK Biobank academic lead in Wales. He said: "This is a massive undertaking to improve the health of future generations. I do hope people will want to be a part of this historic project."

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Tony Jewell, and Ann Lloyd, Head of the Department for Health and Social Services and Chief Executive of NHS Wales, are two of the signatories to the letters of invitation being delivered over the course of the next six months.

Dr Jewell said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for people to do something positive for the health of the next generations. They will play a crucial role in our understanding of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses and help health scientists develop measures on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of such conditions."

In building this resource, UK Biobank asks for a small donation of blood and, with participants’ permission, it will track their health over the next 30 years and more. As it matures, UK Biobank will become an unparalleled source of vital information on a range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis and many other life-threatening and debilitating conditions. In particular, it will provide insights into why some people get particular diseases and others do not - paving the way for prevention and better treatments.

Participation is by invitation only; most people aged 40-69 living within about a 10 mile radius of Cardiff will be asked if they wish to participate in the months ahead, before the project moves on to other cities and towns in Wales.

UK Biobank participants attend a 90-minute assessment at a special centre in Cardiff University’s MediCentre, Heath Park Campus, Cardiff, next to the University Hospital of Wales.

Participants will provide information on their current health and lifestyles and will have a number of measurements taken, such as blood pressure, weight, lung function and bone density. They will be asked to donate small samples of blood and urine. Though not a health check, participants will leave with a list of personal health-related measurements and some indication of how they compare to standard values.

This ambitious project aims to recruit 500,000 people as it rolls out across Britain. Cardiff is the first assessment centre to open in Wales. It is the fourth in the UK, after Manchester, Oxford and Glasgow. Around 15 million blood and urine samples will eventually be stored for decades in specially designed laboratories near Manchester, at temperatures down to about -200°C.

Professor Rory Collins, UK Biobank’s Principal Investigator, said: "UK Biobank is a project of which the whole of Britain can truly be proud. We are talking to lots of British scientists about the ways this resource can help their research and, internationally, advising others who want to set up similar projects in their own countries.

"Health research has taken enormous strides in the past decade and we know a lot about how our bodies work, but we need to find out more. In setting up UK Biobank for researchers in the future - those who may only be in primary or junior school now or not even born - we are establishing the blood-based resource to do just that, and making a significant contribution to improving the health of future generations."