GeneWatch PR: UK Biobank gets go-ahead: GeneWatch UK response

22nd August 2006

Today, GeneWatch UK responded to the announcement that the controversial genetic research project, UK Biobank, has final approval from its funders, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. GeneWatch UK's Deputy Director, Helen Wallace, said:

"For the millions of people thinking about whether or not to give their DNA, many questions remain unanswered. This includes UK Biobank's relationship with commercial companies - who are likely to decide what research is done and to be allowed to patent people's genes."

GeneWatch also remain sceptical about the likely contribution of the project to improving health.

"Many environmental factors - such as people's diets or exposure to pollution - will not be measured accurately, and most genes will have only small and variable effects in the older population that will be targeted. We remain concerned that UK Biobank is not a good research priority and could give misleading results", said Dr Wallace.

Since it was first proposed GeneWatch UK's main concerns about the UK Biobank include (1):

  • its aim of quantifying 'genetic susceptibility' to common diseases, because it is unlikely to be a successful or cost-effective means of disease prevention;
  • its scientific limitations, particularly that spurious links between genes and diseases may be made;
  • the role of commercial companies: including the potential for 'gene fishing', patenting gene sequences and gaining excessive monopolies over future treatments;
  • the lack of safeguards to protect participants from future misuse of their genetic information.

Recently, the UK Biobank has emphasised other (non-genetic) research that might be undertaken using the biobank. However, it continues to involve plans to collect and store DNA from half a million people, so the need for safeguards has not been reduced. In addition, the published scientific protocol, design and data to be collected, and much of the communication with potential participants and others, still reflect its original aim.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace, Mobile: 07903-311584.

Notes to editors:

1. For more information on GeneWatch UK's views on the UK Biobank see:[cid]=507674

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