Study seeks 5 million volunteers to map UK’s health and better fight diseases

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Over three million letters are being sent out this autumn inviting members of the public to join a major new health research programme designed to help develop new ways to prevent, detect and treat diseases.

Eventually up to five million people will have the opportunity to join Our Future Health - a new initiative which aims to be the UK's largest ever health research programme - over the next few years.

By analysing health data and blood samples from millions of volunteers who join the programme, researchers could unlock new ways to detect diseases earlier when they can be treated more easily, says the programme.

Data could also help to 'more accurately predict' who is at higher risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and stroke.

Volunteers will provide information about their health and lifestyles to create a detailed picture that represents the whole of the UK. Photograph: iStock

Volunteers joining the research programme will be given the option in the future to receive feedback about their health, including their risk of common diseases, based on their health data and analysis of their DNA.

They will also be offered the results from blood pressure and cholesterol measurements. 

The research programme provides an opportunity to explore the potential uses of genetic risk scores in health care, and how they may improve screening programmes and diagnostic tests for earlier detection. 

Some groups have previously been under-represented in health research, including people from Black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds and people with lower incomes.

The programme is aiming for 5 million volunteers who 'truly reflect the UK population', say organisers. By ensuring that a diverse range of people take part, it aims to 'enable discoveries that can be made that benefit everyone.'

Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, Dr Chris MacDonald, said: “Information collected through this exciting initiative will provide valuable insight into the health of the nation over time, enabling us to learn more about a wide range of diseases, including pancreatic cancer, and study the signals present in blood samples even many years before diagnosis.

"The insights gained through Our Future Health will be invaluable and will doubtless help to improve early diagnosis and save lives.”

Dr Raghib Ali OBE, Chief Medical Officer of Our Future Health, added: “Today, millions of people spend many years of their life in poor health and too often we are only able treat diseases when our patients start showing symptoms.

"With the help of up to five million people, we’ll be able to dramatically improve our understanding of how to detect and prevent diseases so in the future everyone can live in good health for longer.”

Working in collaboration with NHS DigiTrials, the programme is sending invitation letters this autumn to people over 18 who live in four regions: West Yorkshire, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Greater London.

Volunteers will give their consent to join the research programme and provide secure access to their health records, complete a questionnaire and book an appointment to provide a small blood sample and have some physical measurements taken.

People outside of these regions can also join the programme now and book an appointment when more locations are added in the coming months.

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