UK Biobank helps scientists reveal the genetics and neurobiology of psychiatric illness

New research revealed today at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ International Conference shows how the UK Biobank project is helping to unveil causes of psychiatric illness.

UK Biobank is a major, international, health resource that aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses: illnesses such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and psychiatric and brain disorders such as depression and some forms of dementia.

The project recruited 500,000 people aged 40-69 years from across the UK between 2006 and 2010. Each participant donated genetic information by providing blood, urine and saliva samples for analysis, supplied detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed. Recently the entire Biobank cohort was genotyped and brain imaging data obtained on several thousand individuals.

Over many years this data bank will continue to build into a powerful resource to help scientists discover why some people develop particular diseases and others do not, and will help to improve the health of future generations.

It is hosted by the University of Manchester and supported by the NHS.

A registered charity, it is open to bona fide researchers anywhere in the world.

Professor Andrew McIntosh and his colleagues from the University of Edinburgh have used UK Biobank data to study the genetic basis of depression and neuroticism. They have also used the genetic data to test previously reported associations between pain and major depression and they are beginning to look at the structural associations of psychiatric illness using these data.

Andrew says:

“UK Biobank has recently revealed several new and important genetic associations with psychiatric illness, pain, neuroticism and cognition using data from study volunteers. The addition of brain imaging data makes UK Biobank an unparalleled resource for the study of the causes and disease mechanisms underlying common psychiatric disorders.

“UK Biobank will reveal new avenues of research by directing our attention away from findings that were, because of the small samples used, unreliable towards discoveries that are clinically important as well as scientifically and statistically robust.”

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