While watching the news on Friday night, yes it doesn’t get much more exciting than that these days, i saw a piece on the UK Bio Bank. UK Biobank is a major national health resource with the aim of improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses – including cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, eye disorders, depression and forms of dementia. UK Biobank recruited 500,000 people aged between 40-69 years in 2006-2010 from across the country to take part in this project. They have undergone measures, provided blood, urine and saliva samples for future analysis, detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed.
So what is the significance of this study? There are a a couple of important differences from previous studies, most obvious being the number of participants. Half a million subjects is a huge, and importantly significant, sample size. It should allow researchers to cut through background noise and discover trends that have not been apparent in smaller studies. Another difference is that this study focuses on a diverse range of people. Some are already suffering from an illness but many are perfectly healthy. Much of the previous research has focused on just those that are already suffering from an illness.
So why am I writing about the UK Bio Bank on a geospatial blog? Well, along with the wide array of physiological measurements that are being collected about each subject, the research team are collecting information about:
- where participants live
- where they grew up
- where they have lived throughout their life
- the income of their family while they grew up
- their employment
and I am sure many more things. This gives the study a spatial element and geographical factors can have a strong influence on health. With such a large sample size GIS is the obvious tool to analyse and extract patterns from the noise of the data. Packages such as ArcGIS and R Stats will help researchers explore the dataset. I am sure the UK Bio Bank will become a an important research resource in years to come and will have a significant impact on epidemiology research.
UK Biobank was established by the Wellcome Trust medical charity, Medical Research Council, Department of Health, Scottish Government and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. It has also had funding from theWelsh Assembly Government and the British Heart Foundation. UK Biobank is hosted by the University of Manchester and supported by the National Health Service (NHS).