Cures for disease may be step closer thanks to release of largest ever whole genome sequencing data

Category: Health


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. incurable / ɪnˈkyʊər ə bəl / (adj.) – cannot be healed

    The doctor explained that his illness is incurable. They haven’t found a cure for it yet.

  2. tranche / trɑntʃ / (n.) – a piece, section, or part of something

    The company released the first tranche of its new products last month.

  3. unprecedented / ʌnˈprɛs ɪˌdɛn tɪd / (adj.) – not done or experienced in the past

    The country saw unprecedented economic growth at levels never seen before.

  4. prevalent / ˈprɛv ə lənt / (adj.) – existing or happening very commonly

    Seafood dishes are prevalent in towns near the sea.

  5. physiological / ˌfɪz i əˈlɒdʒ ɪ kəl / (adj.) – relating to the way in which the bodies of living things work

    Regular exercise has many physiological benefits, such as having strong muscles and a healthy heart.


Read the text below.

The UK Biobank has been tracking the medical outcomes of people since 2006. Inside this giant freezing unit, a robot can access samples provided by half a million people in the UK. The samples include blood and saliva while computers have whole-body scans and medical updates from participants going back almost two decades.

The Biobank says tens of thousands of scientists have already benefited from the data stored here, adding to knowledge that can be used to fight disease.

This too will be released to researchers aiming to find effective treatments for so far, incurable diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s, and soft tissue cancers.

According to UK Biobank, the result comes after a £200 million (GBP) investment.

Naomi Allen, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Oxford and the Chief Scientist at the UK Biobank says the information being made available to medical professionals is unprecedented.

“We’re releasing the most ambitious project ever, which is the single largest tranche of whole genome sequencing data on half a million people. […] So whole genome sequencing data consists of measuring all of the genetic variation across your entire genome, which has not been done before at this scale,” says Allen.

Importantly, the Biobank will be able to offer new insights into how particular diseases can be more prevalent in certain populations, such as Black, Asian, and Hispanic people as well as White people.

But the aim of UK Biobank is not just to treat disease and tackle it early but to prevent it too which would be a hugely progressive step for public health.

Having information from the whole genome could help anticipate which drugs would work better on a person and which are likely to have severe side effects.

According to UK Biobank, the genome bank could also accelerate understanding of illnesses that aren’t properly understood such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases. Allen believes the dataset can reveal how our genetics affect proteins, metabolites, and other physiological factors that could contribute to these illnesses.

According to Allen, the dataset could also accelerate the application of new medical technologies such as gene editing.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • UK Biobank stores medical records of half a million UK residents, gathered over nearly twenty years. If this is done in your country, would you also volunteer to give your data to such a biobank? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • The Biobank aims to shed light on how diseases vary in certain populations. Why do you think it’s important to have insights into prevalent diseases among various populations (ex. to consider genetic differences, to consider cultural practices when treating a disease)? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Allen said that they’re releasing the most ambitious project ever. Do you think it’s a good idea for scientists to talk more with the public about their ambitious projects? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • What’s the most ambitious scientific project or experiment you’ve ever heard of (ex. cure for cancer, DNA testing for ancestry)? How did it make you feel (ex. hopeful, skeptical)? Why? Discuss.