New health study enlists 5 million Brits

The aim is to be able to detect common diseases and prevent or delay them...
28 October 2022

Interview with 

Raghib Ali, Our Future Health


Close up of a doctor's coat, with a stethoscope and a pocket full of pens


First up this week, a new health initiative has launched in the UK which goes by the name Our Future Health. It’s a government-funded study that’s aiming to find earlier signs to better detect diseases and will initially enlist up to 5 million Brits. Raghib Ali is the Chief Medical Officer on the project…

Raghib - In some ways, this is a study I've been waiting for 25 years for, since I was a student. One of the things I noticed when I first started seeing patients as all of us do as doctors, is that many of our patients present with diseases that are largely preventable, or at least able to de delayed. Whether it's diabetes, heart disease, many cancers. Through the course of my career, I've seen too many patients - I work in A&E as a consultant - if we'd been able to check that disease earlier, we would've been able to prevent or at least delay it to much later in life. Our Future Health has been established to understand how we can better prevent disease by identifying people who are at high risk earlier and then intervening earlier to prevent those diseases. Tools and diagnostic tests have improved significantly over the last 10 to 15 years that now give us the opportunity to do that.

James - One of the most eye catching things about this study is just how big it is.

Raghib - You are right, it is unprecedented in its scale and ambition. But we really do need around 5 million people because for the first time, what we're doing with this study is making it open to everybody, all adults in the UK, 18 plus. Not all diseases are as common as as others, and so we want to be able to study every disease, every common chronic disease in every group of people. And that's why we need 5 million people. But you're right, it's a big challenge. And what we're trying to do over the course of the next few years is to make it as easy as possible for people to take part. So most of what that that involves is done online. People can sign up online, fill in a questionnaire online, book an appointment online, and then attend one of our centres to give blood and physical measurements.

James - Are you able to give some specific examples of exactly the sort of research and eventually treatments which will benefit from the use of the data collected in this study?

Raghib - There are some diseases, including most of the common chronic diseases, that have a genetic component to them. So although it's often our habits, diet, lifestyle, physical activity, tobacco, alcohol, etc., which are modifiable risk factors, whether you develop a disease or not is often linked to your genetic background and makeup as well. And so what we're able to do now is to identify those who are at higher genetic risk and they can be put into screening services at an earlier age. And that means instead of just going by age alone, you've got a more risk based assessment for screenings that will help us also detect cancer using circulating tumour cells within the blood. It's really detecting disease at an earlier stage because most diseases develop over years or even decades and up until now we haven't had the technology to detect them at the earlier stage. But now that's what we're trying to do. And also to develop treatments based on the data that we're collecting to intervene earlier. Sometimes that will be behavioural change, but it could also be new pharmaceuticals, new drugs that we can use.


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