09
February
2024
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09:00
Europe/London

New UK Biobank headquarters prepares for construction at Bruntwood SciTech’s Manchester Science Park

In an exciting moment for the future of UK Biobank, this week (Wednesday 7 February) the organisation welcomed the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, to Bruntwood SciTech’s Manchester Science Park to officially mark the future site of UK Biobank’s new £75m centre1 ready for construction. UK Biobank is the world's most comprehensive source of health data used for research, providing access to de-identified data to approved researchers worldwide.

The cutting-edge 131,000 sq ft new building, of which UK Biobank will occupy three floors, will include laboratory space and a latest-generation robotic freezer that stores and retrieves UK Biobank’s 20 million biological samples four times faster than before, revolutionising the pace of scientific discovery. It will increase UK Biobank’s capacity, speed and efficiency and is supported by a £127.6m award from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund for the next phase of UK Biobank’s development2.

UK Biobank will be located alongside fast-growth life science businesses working in diagnostics, genomics, biotech and precision medicine in the highly specialist purpose-built building, which includes specialist labs and features such as increased vibration resistance, piped gas distribution systems, enhanced cooling and ventilation systems, high security access and 100GB superfast connectivity. The new facility will be 100% electric and net zero carbon in construction and operation in its shared spaces - one of the first lab spaces in the UK to be so.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser DBE FRS, Chief Executive of UKRI, said: “UK Biobank is a unique resource, powering research and innovation in the biomedical sciences, creating jobs, and connecting pioneering organisations. UKRI is investing significantly in UK Biobanks’ future. Recent enhancements to UK Biobank, such as the addition of whole genome sequencing data of its half a million participants, are drawing even more scientists to the database, increasing its potential to improve public health. This new facility will help to drive research and innovation on disease prevention and treatment.” 

The Secretary of State was joined by senior representatives from UKRI, the University of Manchester, Bruntwood SciTech, and UK Biobank. To mark this celebration, the Secretary of State completed the planting of the ‘living wall’ hoarding for the site, which will be maintained throughout construction before becoming part of a 7m high, two-storey green wall3 wrapping around the building to act as a layer of insulation, increase biodiversity and improve air quality.

The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, said: “UK Biobank makes an unparalleled contribution to science across the whole world, by putting invaluable information at researchers’ fingertips. It is already unlocking insights with the potential to detect Parkinson’s sooner, and tackle heart disease. It is without question a jewel in the crown of UK science, and an envy of the world. UK Biobank’s new home at Manchester Science Park – supported with an accelerated £21 million from Government – will mean it has the state-of-the-art facilities it needs, to keep its place at the forefront of our understanding of human health.”

The campus is one of the UK’s most well-established life science and technology hubs, home to 150 startups, scaleups, and globally leading businesses, and is located within the heart of the Oxford Road Corridor innovation district - Europe’s largest clinical academic campus. Supported by the University of Manchester, the new building importantly puts UK Biobank near leading institutions operating across research, academia, business and the NHS. This will provide UK Biobank with new opportunities for collaboration between multi-disciplinary researchers and industry which will stimulate innovation, health impact and economic growth in the Manchester region and beyond.

Dr Kath Mackay, Chief Scientific Officer for Bruntwood SciTech, said: “The UK's ambition to be a global leader in life sciences is contingent on the success and continued growth of regional hubs like Manchester Science Park. The arrival of UK Biobank at the campus marks an exciting milestone in its evolution, further cementing its position as one of the UK’s primary locations for innovation, collaboration, and discovery, and where businesses can gain direct access to some of the world’s most pioneering research, and a fully integrated clinical and academic ecosystem."

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell FRS FMedSci, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester and member of UK Biobank’s Board, said: “Manchester is home to a globally acclaimed science and technology base and I’m really excited for UK Biobank to join this bustling hub of terrific research organisations which work closely with the University of Manchester to push the boundaries of science.”

Manchester is home to a globally acclaimed science and technology base and I’m really excited for UK Biobank to join this bustling hub of terrific research organisations which work closely with the University of Manchester to push the boundaries of science

President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

The new centre is due to open in 2026 and will house UK Biobank’s biological samples, laboratories, headquarters and around half of its 250 staff. It will dramatically increase the speed at which UK Biobank can supply samples to researchers, allow for the storage of more samples as UK Biobank expands, and be more environmentally efficient. With a new home to store more samples, and generous donations from philanthropists and Government in 2023, UK Biobank can now embark on pilot projects which will provide unrivalled data on human health and disease, such as:

●        Repeating the first measures taken at recruitment for every participant. This will gather incredibly useful information about how people’s minds and bodies change over middle and old age and how this is related to disease development. It will also provide an opportunity to collect new measures to enable research into healthy ageing.

●        Investigating different types of dementia and cancer. In the UK 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 have dementia, and 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. There are several types of dementia, and even more forms of cancer. With more data from UK Biobank participants on these diseases there can be more research into their potential causes and the development of targeted treatments.

●        Trialling remote forms of assessment, such as apps and wearable technology. This will open up a new way of collecting detailed data on participants’ health, including objective measures of movement and sleep.

     Professor Sir Rory Collins FRS FMedSci, Principal Investigator and CEO of UK Biobank, said: “This new facility is an essential step forward in ensuring that researchers across the globe can more efficiently access our millions of samples to turn them into data which can be used to propel research and innovation. My huge thanks go to UKRI whose generous funds have made the development of this new facility possible.”

This ceremony is particularly timely as it coincides with two UK Biobank milestones: 10,000 peer-reviewed papers have been published using UK Biobank's data, and 80,000 participants have had full body image scans collected as part of our efforts to complete the world's largest imaging project of 100,000 volunteers.

None of this could exist without our amazing participants who give up their time and energy to provide the scientific community with the ultimate toolbox for investigating human health. I offer my eternal thanks to those half a million altruistic people,” added Professor Collins.  

Photo credit:  UK Biobank/Tim Ainsworth 

Caption: Jessica Bowles, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Impact, Bruntwood SciTech, Secretary of State Michelle Donelan, Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell, University of Manchester & UK Biobank Board member, John Busby, Chief Operating Officer, UK Biobank 

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