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Celebrating a Birthday: The UK Biobank Research Analysis Platform Marks the First Anniversary of Its Launch

Oh, how quickly they grow! A year has passed since the launch of the UK Biobank Research Analysis Platform, an innovative and powerful platform created to democratize access to the increasing scale and complexity of the world’s largest biomedical research resource, UK Biobank.

A revolutionary step forward, the platform allows approved researchers to access and analyze the entire UK Biobank database securely, in the cloud, from anywhere in the world. This means that for the first time approved UK Biobank researchers can access the vast amounts of health data with simply a laptop and internet connection. In doing so it has fostered greater collaboration between researchers and opened the door to the global research community and early career scientists in a way not possible before.

"The successful first year of UK Biobank’s Research Analysis Platform has enabled even more researchers to unleash their imaginations on the extraordinary scale and depth of data in the resource. In doing so, it supports the original vision of our founders, the MRC and Wellcome, and of our half a million altruistic participants, by making these data readily accessible to researchers globally in order to improve health." Sir Rory Collins, CEO and Principal Investigator, UK Biobank

In the year since launch, the multi-omics platform has grown to include over 20 petabytes of genetic, imaging, lifestyle, and health record data from UK Biobank and has over 2,500 scientists globally analyzing data in the cloud. The platform has grown alongside the extensive UK Biobank database, which saw the largest data releases in history of whole genome & whole exome sequencing data for the investigation of the causes of the major health issues facing us today. Read more about these historic releases here and here.

Enabled by DNAnexus technology and powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), the RAP provides a valuable library of tools for analyzing genomic, imaging, and clinical data. For example, the innovative Cohort Browser allows users to create cohorts that used to take 3 months in 20 minutes all in the platform user interface. The RAP also continues to expand its capabilities, with additional functions being integrated such as, RStudio Workbench, JupyterLab, GWAS tools including Plink, Regenie and LocusZoom, plus imaging tools like Nipype, facilitating greater collaboration and research analysis at pace.

"We're proud that our first year of our partnership with UK Biobank has been successful and enabled the research community to scale their analysis for deeper healthcare insights. Our goal continues to focus on empowering more researchers to accelerate their research in this era of precision medicine and this will remain our focus for years to come." Richard Daly

Approved UK Biobank researchers are able to utilize the RAP interface to collaborate with their approved project partners, whether they’re in the next lab or across the globe. The ability to share data, tools and storage power in the cloud across a collaborative research project is enabling early career and low-middle income country researchers to remove the economic barriers to collaboration with like-minded scientists around the world.

Global collaboration is especially important since UK Biobank RAP users hail from all around the world (41% US; 23% UK; 12% APAC; 24% ROW). These users are from both academic institutions and commercial organizations, including members from 80% of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies.

Users also have access to the extensive online webinar and training program, covering platform functionality to get them up and running, hands-on workshops to go more in-depth, and roundtables with experts discussing their methods for running large-scale analyses for various disease types.

The launch of the DNAnexus Community has created a space for users to collaborate by sharing tools, tips, and workflows. Members have contributed strategies for performing analysis to their own custom workflows for working on the RAP. Experts from the field also answer user questions in the Ask Me Anything series including members from the UK Biobank Data Analyst team. Online support within the UK Biobank Research Analysis Platform supports experienced and new users alike, providing a springboard for improving workflow and sharing best practice for analysis of uniquely large data sets.

“The UK Biobank RAP provided a reliable and transparent service, ideal to develop, test and benchmark my scientific software. It enabled our research group to manage whole genome sequencing data of hundreds of thousands of individuals and to perform computationally demanding tasks, such as haplotype phasing and genotype imputation, at unprecedented scale. The flexibility of the platform and the large amount of data it can handle allow large-scale analysis that would be very limited or impossible in traditional HPC clusters.” Simone Rubinacci, DPhil, Department of Computational Biology, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland / Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

What next for the UK Biobank Analysis Platform?

Improving the world’s health is a complex and long term goal, UK Biobank continues to curate detailed health data on its half a million participants to enable scientists to achieve this. The platform will continue to develop tools to help remove the technological barriers associated with accessing such large scale population health data.

Over the next year we hope to keep pushing the boundaries of technology and health, broadening use of the platform across research disciplines and global locations. The availability of UK Biobank Platform Credits Programme, courtesy of AWS, has been designed to support early career researchers and those from low-middle income countries with credits up to $500,000 to facilitate their research through the RAP. We hope to see more researchers access these credits over the next year.

There will be more webinars, workshops, and training. More in-depth insights from experts discussing their methods for running large-scale analysis for various disease types.

We look to the second year of the UK Biobank RAP with a sense of anticipation - data drives discovery and we look forward to what this innovative platform can help the medical research community to achieve in the next 12 months and beyond.

Happy anniversary, UK Biobank RAP! We look forward to celebrating many more milestones in the years to come.



Want the full rap on the UK Biobank RAP? Here are some resources to learn more:

About DNAnexus

DNAnexus the leader in biomedical informatics and data management, has created the global network for genomics and other biomedical data, operating in 33 countries including North America, Europe, China, Australia, South America, and Africa. The secure, scalable, and collaborative DNAnexus Platform helps thousands of researchers across a spectrum of industries — biopharmaceutical, bioagricultural, sequencing services, clinical diagnostics, government, and research consortia — accelerate their genomics programs.

The DNAnexus team is made up of experts in computational biology and cloud computing who work with organizations to tackle some of the most exciting opportunities in human health, making it easier—and in many cases feasible—to work with genomic data. With DNAnexus, organizations can stay a step ahead in leveraging genomics to achieve their goals. The future of human health is in genomics. DNAnexus brings it all together.