Five years after the UK Biobank first won financial backing in principle from the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, it has just about reached the point where bricks and mortar are being added to grand ideas and cautious plans. (When was originally approved in 1999, the Biobank resembled the UK Population Biomedical Collection, which sounded more like something you could order from a curio shop at the Census Bureau than a repository for tissue samples.)

So even as Biobank fever around the world has taken a few missteps (witness recent events in Estonia and Iceland), several key pieces will start falling into place this year for the UK resource, which aims to collect genetic, health, and lifestyle data from 500,000 participants.

In December 2003 a company formed by the UK Biobank's funders to operate the project was finally incorporated. Until that point, "we couldn't employ anybody, we couldn't...

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