UK Biobank aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases, using baseline information obtained between 2006 and 2010 from 500 000 adults. The first major publication using follow-up data from UK Biobank is the comprehensive and statistically advanced investigation of predictors of overall and cause-specific mortality by Andrea Ganna (Karolinska Instituten and Uppsala University) and Erik Ingelsson (Uppsala University) published in the Lancet on 4th June 2015.
All the results are available for use by clinicians or researchers and the authors’ website includes the useful representation of an individual’s estimated 5 year mortality risk as what the authors call “Ubble age” (the age where the average risk in the population is most similar to the estimated risk of the individual); this concept is similar to that of heart age developed for communicating cardiovascular risk.
Simon G Thompson and Peter Willeit (Department of Public Health and Primary Care here at Cambridge) suggest in their Lancet commentary on the study (also published on 4th June) that the work reinforces their evidence that increases in physical activity, smoking cessation, and having a healthy diet can increase longevity.
They write however: ‘The challenge lies in how these changes can be achieved, rather than in removing any uncertainty in scientific understanding. It is also perhaps overoptimistic to claim that the information available on the authors’ website is clinically useful to identify those at high risk of mortality. Clinicians’ work is disease-oriented and embraces a mix of information about medical history, physical signs, laboratory measurements, and imaging techniques, which are not addressed in this study’.
‘Whether the Ubble website will help individuals improve self-awareness of their health status, however, or only lead to so-called cyberchondria, is a moot point. Moreover, 5 year mortality is easier to predict than long-term morbidity, or quality of life and life expectancy, all of which are more important to individuals and to society’.
‘From a research point of view, UK Biobank is starting to show its true potential. Much more is yet to come: genetic and biochemical information, long-term follow-up, disease morbidity, and linked hospital admission and primary care records. The fact that the data are available to researchers worldwide is an adventurous and positive strategy. The greatest value of UK Biobank in the future is likely to come from more targeted analyses of risk factors for particular diseases and health outcomes, and the elucidation, for example with the technique of Mendelian randomisation, of those factors which are likely to represent causal mechanisms’.
UK Longevity Explorer – the UbbLE website