New UK twin biobank proposed for genetic research

11 April 2009

An ambitious new UK biobanking initiative is reportedly being planned for the study of genetic and environmental factors in disease and behaviour; a database of 300,000 pairs of twins with linked biological samples has been proposed by researchers at King's College London, according to the Times newspaper. There are an estimated 640,000 sets of twins in Britain. The TwinBank project at the KCL Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology would be ten times larger than the current largest resource, allowing researchers to study not only very common condition but also rarer forms complex diseases such as leukaemia and motor neuron disease that affect fewer than 1 in 100 individuals.

TwinBank would include both identical and non-identical (fraternal) twin pairs, with samples linked to NHS medical records. A pilot study is underway whilst applications for the estimated £6-20 million required in funding are proceed (see Times report). Professor of Behavioural Genetics Robert Plomin commented: “TwinBank would give us unprecedented opportunities to study the genetic and environmental factors that influence human health and behaviour. It would be a dream resource” (see press release).
The UK charity Wellbeing of Women, which works to support medical research and provision in the areas of reproductive and gynaecological health, also announced plans for a new biobank project last month. This will be a data bank to support research into genetic factors in different complications of pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia, intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) and recurrent miscarriage. A variable degree of inherited susceptibility to some complications of pregnancy is known or suspected. For example, pre-eclampsia has a significant genetic component (see previous news) and is the subject of ongoing genetic research (including by the GOPEC consortium). The Baby Bio Bank will store cord blood and placenta samples along with blood samples and medical histories from the parents of each baby, with collection expected to begin from June 2009 for up to five years. Project lead Lesley Regan said that it would be an international resource for obstetricians and scientists" (see press release).

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