A biobank idea seems to have received a huge response in Wales. More than 7,500 people have signed up already. They consider it a unique project to help protect the health of future generations.
Biobank Cymru, part of a wider UK initiative, is seeing about 500 people a week, all of whom have donated blood and urine in the hope that their samples could hold the key to a major breakthrough in the treatment of common diseases in decades to come.
AdvertisementThe Biobank initiative aims to recruit about 500,000 people, aged between 40 and 69, all over the UK, to try to discover how health is influenced by lifestyle, environment and genes.
Nationally, 57,000 people have been recruited at the six centres, which also include Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and Stoke, reports Western Mail.
It is hoped that data from the hundreds of thousands of samples will ultimately be used to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of illnesses - such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and joint problems - and to promote health throughout society.
By analysing answers, measurements and samples collected from participants, present and future researchers may be able to work out why some people develop particular diseases while others do not.
This, in turn, could lead to the discovery of new ways to prevent early death and disability.
But it will be at least 10 years or more before Biobank research bears fruit - it follows in the footsteps of other pioneering long-term studies, such as Sir Richard Doll's, which discovered a clear link between smoking and lung cancer 50 years ago.
First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who launched Biobank Cymru in October and has contributed to the database, said, "Technology doesn't stand still and health scientists need to continue to build a broader, richer range of data in order to understand more about how we treat such life-threatening conditions."
And Professor Rory Collins, UK Biobank's principal investigator, said, "In setting up UK Biobank for researchers in the future - those who may only be in primary or junior school now or not even born - we are establishing the blood-based resource to do just that, and making a significant contribution to improving the health of future generations."
The opportunity to participate in Biobank Cymru is by invitation only and, for the first six months at least, those invitations have been sent to people living in Cardiff - the catchment area will be widened later this year.
All volunteers are asked to donate a small amount of urine and blood to the resource and blood pressure, weight, lung function and bone density readings will also be taken.
Information on current health and lifestyle will also be recorded in an attempt to unravel the complex relationship between what is genetic and what is the result of lifestyle choices.
Grandparents Tom and Iona Jones, from Cardiff, were among the thousands of people to take up the invitation to take part in Biobank Cymru.
Mr Jones, 62, a retired engineer and financial adviser, said, "When I read about it and realised that it was for research purposes and the future health of people, I thought it was a worthwhile thing to do.
"There was also a feel-good factor element to it and after we had given the samples and done the interviews, it felt good to know yourself a little bit better.
"And it makes you think a little bit more about your own lifestyle - we lead fairly healthy lifestyles and do regular exercise.
"My only bad habit is smoking but I have cut down since we did Biobank."
Mrs Jones, 65, a retired secretary, added, "I thought this was a good thing to do because it is for the good of everyone. I believe that we need more research into heart disease, because lots of people suffer from it."
Biobank is funded by the Wellcome Trust - the UK's largest independent medical research charity - the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
It also has the backing of many of the UK's major medical research charities, including the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.