GeneWatch UK today questioned the attempt to recruit large numbers of people to join the controversial genetic research project UK Biobank, before important rules about its relationship with commercial companies have been finalised.
The biobank was first proposed by scientists from the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham (now Glaxo Smith Kline), as part of a proposed public-private partnership to gain access to NHS medical records linked with DNA (1). However, UK Biobank's policy on access by commercial companies and their policy on patenting is still not available for potential participants to consider.
"Without clear controls on commercial use, this vast genetic database will be open to abuse", said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "People need the chance to think about what kind of companies they want to have access to this information, and whether controversial practices such as gene patenting should be allowed".
Genes are now thought to be poor predictors of common diseases like cancer in most people, and some scientists have warned that undertaking ever larger studies is a waste of money (2). Other scientists have criticised the UK Biobank for its lack of multiple measures of changing environmental exposures over time, without which they argue this type of study may not be worth the investment (3).
"UK Biobank is not a good priority for health research, because it will not accurately measure environmental factors in disease", said Dr Wallace. "Genes play a much smaller and more complicated role than scientists were expecting and there is a real danger of spurious results".
For further information contact:
Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile).
Notes for editors
(1) History of UK Biobank is available on: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/History_of_UK_Biobank.doc
(2) Baker & Kaprio. Common susceptibility genes for cancer: search for the end of the rainbow. British Medical Journal, 332, 1150-1152. 13th May 2006. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/332/7550/1150
(3) Frank et al. Large life-course cohorts for characterizing genetic and environmental contributions: the need for more thoughtful designs. Epidemiology, 17, 595-598. November 2006.