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The UK Biobank houses an extensive collection of biological samples and health information from 500,000 volunteers, providing clues to the genetic and environmental drivers of disease. Naomi Allen, the project’s chief scientist and an epidemiologist at Oxford University, discusses the exploding body of findings from this 20-year-old biomedical resource and the prospects for the expansion of this biopharmaceutical treasure trove.
As an epidemiologist at Oxford University, Naomi Allen was frustrated with the field’s slow progress towards unravelling the causes of disease. Massive and detailed datasets are key to these epidemiological investigations, but large-scale cohorts are hard to access and tend to be disjointed and incomplete. So when a chance to join the UK Biobank arose, she jumped. “Before the launch of the UK Biobank, there wasn't really a large-scale study that provided access to genomic data, lifestyle data and health outcomes all in one place. That was definitely a driver for me, in wanting to help create a resource for the wider research community,” she recalls.