Data bank boots hopes for future biomedical research into mental health

A major health data resource will be able to dramatically expand potential research into mental disorders after receiving responses from thousands of members of the public on mental health.

UK Biobank originally recruited 500,000 volunteers whose health data is used in scientific research to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses.

The project previously had limited mental health data to work with, but following 157,366 responses to an online mental health questionnaire developed by researchers at Kings College London, it now has unparalleled potential for further biomedical research into mental health.

Access to this data will now give researchers the opportunity to look at whether depression is one illness or lots of different related illnesses, for example.

Professor Matthew Hotopf (pictured), director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Centre, said: “Our study suggests that UK Biobank could be a powerful tool for mental health research, and since it is open to all health researchers for work in the public good, we hope to inspire both existing and new users of UK Biobank.

“Our mental health questionnaire demonstrates the substantial burden of mental disorders.

“Given the known impact of mental health on physical health, mental health data should interest researchers from every biomedical specialty looking at associations with health and disease.”

Volunteers aged between 40 and 69 were recruited from 2006 to 2010 from across the country to take part in the project.

They provided blood, urine and saliva samples for future analysis, detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed by scientists.

The resource is available to all bona fide researchers as they try to discover why some people develop particular diseases and others do not.

To gain access to the resource, scientists must first register with UK Biobank and submit a research proposal.

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