More than three million adults in the UK are being invited to take part in one of the world’s largest health research programmes.
In what is thought to be one of the most ambitious projects of its kind, Our Future Health plans to develop new ways to detect illnesses earlier – when they can be treated more easily – and more accurately predict who is at higher risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and stroke.
Volunteers will also include people who have previously been under-represented in scientific studies, such as those from Black, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds and people with lower incomes.
Dr Raghib Ali, chief medical officer of Our Future Health, said: ‘One of the things we weren’t able to do (in the past) was to recruit sufficient numbers of people of non-European ancestry – so (for) people of South Asian and Black communities, we didn’t have sufficient numbers to look at diseases in those populations.
‘Our Future Health will allow us, for the first time, to do that at an efficient scale.’
Eventually, up to five million people over the age of 18 will have the opportunity to join Our Future Health over the next few years, which the scientists said, will include ‘thousands of people from ethnic minorities’.
Those taking part in the programme are expected to be in it for the long haul and will have to consent to providing DNA and blood samples.
Health data gathered from the participants will be anonymised and held within research environments that meet strict security criteria, the researchers said.
Volunteers 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.
People who live in West Yorkshire, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Greater London will be among the first to receive the letters.
Professor Sir John Bell, chairperson of Our Future Health, said: ‘The ambition is to try and create a sandbox for testing and evaluating these early diagnostics or prevention strategies across a large population of people – something between three and five million people.
‘And we’ll be able to use that population to help us evaluate these new tools, diagnose disease early, prevent disease more effectively, and intervene at an earlier stage.’