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First Minister urges support for Biobank Cymru

08 October 2007

First Minister Rhodri Morgan, today (Monday 8 October) urged the people of Wales to sign up to Biobank Cymru - a world-leading health project now recruiting in Cardiff.

Participants will join a pioneering project based at Cardiff University to provide a long-term snapshot of their health.

The information gathered over coming decades will help improve the health of future generations.

"I’m delighted to be here today, not least because my recent experience in being treated for a heart condition here at the University of Wales hospital really brought home to me how the latest technology and research makes our NHS the best health service in the world.

"But technology doesn’t stand still and health scientists need to continue to build a broader, richer range of data in order to understand more about how we treat such life-threatening conditions.

"I was fortunate that the health service was able to treat me so successfully. Now that Biobank is being launched here, it means a fantastic opportunity for volunteers in Wales to do something positive for the health of the next generations.

"Through the Wales Office of Research and Development (WORD), the Assembly Government has also funded a mobile laboratory that will enable people in rural and hard to reach areas to participate in the project."

The ambitious health project also has the support of the 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, both of whom are signatories on the letters of invitation being delivered today and over the course of the next six months in Cardiff. UK Biobank will roll out across Wales over the next four years.

The First Minister’s words were echoed by Dr David Grant, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, where the first participants were signing up to the ambitious project today.

Dr Grant said: "As an international centre of medical research and education it is fitting that Cardiff University is participating in this multi-million pound visionary medical project to improve the health of future generations."

Cardiff is the first assessment centre to open in Wales. Researchers at Cardiff University have taken a lead in shaping the national project, which has seen assessment centres opening in Manchester, Oxford and Glasgow in the past six months. 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: "I do hope people will want to be a part of this historic project. We are unable to pay people to participate and, because of the long-term nature of the project, it is unlikely most participants will directly benefit from the research that follows. However, there is a tremendous feel-good factor in taking part and knowing that you are contributing to the better health for all in future generations."

In building this resource, UK Biobank asks for a small donation of blood and urine and, with participants’ permission, it will track their health over the next 30 years and more. Participants also provide information on their current health and lifestyles and have a number of measurements taken, such as blood pressure, weight, lung function and bone density. Though not a health check, participants leave with a list of personal health-related measurements and some indication of how they compare to standard values.

The 90-minute assessment takes place at Cardiff University’s MediCentre, Heath Park Campus, Cardiff, next to the University Hospital of Wales.

As it matures, UK Biobank will become an unparalleled treasure chest of vital information on a range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, skin and lung disorders and many other life-threatening and debilitating conditions.

In particular, by untangling the complex interplay of nature (that is, genes) and nurture (such as lifestyle) it will provide insight into why some people get particular diseases and others do not - paving the way for prevention and better treatments.

Participation is voluntary and by invitation only; most people aged 40-69 living within about a 10 mile radius of Cardiff will be asked if they wish to take part in the months ahead, before the project moves on to other cities and towns in Wales. Participants can withdraw at any time should they wish to do so.

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. I am one of about 25,000 people who have already signed up to this project. I do hope the people of Wales will embrace it in the ways that others have done elsewhere."

UK Biobank is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council with further financial support from the Welsh Assembly Government, the Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. It is hosted by the University of Manchester, has the support of the National Health Service (NHS) and is a collaborative effort between 22 UK universities. It has secured approval from a number of ethics and regulatory groups in relation to its research remit, recruitment process and the storage of blood and urine samples and access to participants’ medical records over many years.

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