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Surprising Science

Biggest Data Library Ever Will Find the Source of Disease

Where is the intersection of nature and nurture? The world’s largest medical database, which compiles the lives of 500,000 patients from birth to death, will help us understand the answer.

What’s the Latest Development?

The world’s largest patient data bank is set to be released for the benefit of general medical research, allowing scientists to tease out what role genes and environment have in affecting our health. Called UK Biobank, the database compiles an amazing range of health data taken from 500,000 middle-aged British people. For each patient, there are 1,000 health metrics “ranging from how often they see friends and relatives to physiological measurements, including hand grip strength, bone density, blood pressure, lung function, body fat profile, and even scores on standard tests of cognitive ability.”

What’s the Big Idea?

By using super-computers to crunch the data, researchers hope to better the relationship between genes and environment, therefore better understanding how disease develops and how we might prevent illness in the future. The data is mostly thanks to Britain’s National Health Service, which tracks the medical data of everyone in the country. America’s National Institutes of Health wanted to compile the same data, but lacking a centralized healthcare network, decided the research would prove too expensive and abandoned the project. China also has a database of about 500,000 medical patients. 

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