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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007, 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK
Medical mission seeks volunteers
Gene analysis
Researchers will study which genes make disease more likely
A medical experiment aiming to be the biggest in the world is appealing for volunteers to help end Scotland's reputation as the "sick man of Europe".

The 61m UK Biobank project will track the health of thousands of people for up to 30 years.

Information and DNA gathered from volunteers will be used by researchers to help tackle serious diseases.

Experts hope the project will provide the most detailed treasure trove of health information ever collected.

Researchers will study the relationship between our genes, our lifestyles and our current health to find out why some people develop certain illnesses and others do not.

Thousands of invitations will be sent out to Scots, aged between 40 and 69, this week.

It is hoped the project will eventually include 500,000 volunteers from across Britain, making it the biggest study of its type ever undertaken.

The Biobank will run alongside the complementary Generation Scotland project, which focuses on how genes inherited from our parents affect the likelihood of developing diseases.

These are landmark initiatives which will improve the life expectancy and the health of our children, our grandchildren and their children
Sir Alan Langlands
UK Biobank chairman

Data collected by the two projects will be used to help prevent and develop new treatments for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, mental health illnesses, osteoporosis and arthritis.

Volunteers will be asked to attend an assessment centre where they will fill out a lifestyle questionnaire, have body measurements such as bone density, blood pressure, height and weight recorded, and donate a small sample of blood and urine for long-term storage as a resource for researchers in the future.

Professor Anna Dominiczak, a cardio-vascular specialist at Glasgow University, said both projects were extremely important for the future of medicine in Scotland and could lead to much more effective methods of preventing disease.

She added: "We normally treat disease when it is very much advanced, for example after people have a heart disease or stroke, but I believe studies like these will help diagnose disease much earlier.

"Frequently we hear we eat badly or smoke and it's all our fault, but that is a simplification as there are also things like genes that we are born with and it is the combination of the two that we need to understand."

'Fighting disease'

Prof Dominiczak said she believed there was a "very strong chance" that genetic factors played a big part in Scotland's appalling health record, with the country leading heart disease league tables.

She added: "Learning about the genes and how they interact with environment will help us tell families with a history of disease how best to prevent them.

"While doing this, we wish to change the image of Scotland and Glasgow from being the sick man of Europe to becoming a centre of excellence in fighting disease."

Sir Alan Langlands, chairman of UK Biobank and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee, said: "These are landmark initiatives which will improve the life expectancy and the health of our children, our grandchildren and their children.

"I can think of many researchers who wish such a project had commenced 10, 15 or 20 years ago because it will be a powerful tool in improving people's health for many years to come."

Generation Scotland, launched in February 2006, is also seeking family members to volunteer in Glasgow and Tayside, aiming ultimately for 50,000 people from across Scotland.

They will be invited to provide a blood sample and key health information, and their health will be similarly followed up long-term.

One family taking part in the Biobank project

Will Biobank pay off?
24 Sep 03 |  Health
Rules for UK Biobank revealed
24 Sep 03 |  Health

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