By the end of 2010, the Biobank project, based in Cheshire, England, is slated to have collected about 10 million samples of blood and urine from a half-million people and will conduct continuing health information evaluations.
If this goal is reached, the project will have included about 1 percent of the British population.
UK Biobank will gather and store medical data and material to allow researchers to study in depth how the complex interplay of genes, lifestyle and environment affects the risk of disease. It is the first time that a project like this has been attempted at this level of detail and on such a vast scale.
Over the course of the recruitment period, there will be around 35 sample collection centers in England, Scotland and Wales, each open for about six months.
The centers will be located in areas where there are about 150,000 men and women aged 40-69 living within about 10 miles. People in the target population will be mailed invitations to participate. The initial pilot phase involved 3,800 participants.
The $115 million project is being funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the UK Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. It has been subjected to rigorous scrutiny by an independent international review panel set up by the funding agencies.
"The idea of establishing a large national blood-based cohort was first proposed in 1999, with a provisional decision to support it made by the funders in 2002," according to the UK Biobank news release.
In its report, the evaluating panel concluded, "UK Biobank has the potential, in ways that are not currently available elsewhere, to support a wide range of research, particularly investigations into complex interactions of various exposures, including genetic and lifestyle factors in the pathways to disease and health."