World’s largest health imaging project to transform study of major diseases

Published: 20 April 2016 Ezine

A major new health imaging study, the largest of its kind in the world, has been launched by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation.

£43 million will be invested in the new project, which will create a massive collection of images of the brain, heart, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat, to bring huge improvements to the way major diseases are studied.

100,000 current participants of UK Biobank, a project set-up by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust a decade ago, will make up the sample.

The scans will be analysed alongside the data already collected from the half a million participants of UK Biobank, providing new data and insights into the way diseases such as arthritis, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis could be treated in the future.

The project also aims to explore new innovative ways to interpret images with benefits expected from both a research and clinical perspective.

The full range of images will include:

  • MRI assessment of heart chamber diameter, the volume of blood flow, and how the heart changes as it pumps blood around the body, thickness of the heart wall and the size, shape and stiffness of the thoracic aorta, the vessel that delivers blood from the heart
  • MRI measures of brain structure and function, volumes of grey matter and the mapping of major brain connections
  • Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry measures of bone density, osteoarthritic change at spine, hip and knee, fractures in the spine, and fat distribution throughout the body
  • MRI measures of abdominal fat volume including in the liver and pancreas
  • Ultrasound assessment of two major arteries, the carotid arteries, that run either side of the neck to the brain.

Cathie Sudlow, Professor of Neurology and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, and UK Biobank’s Chief Scientist, said: “This very large number of participants involved in the multimodal imaging study is impressive enough.

“But what makes it truly transformational is the opportunity to combine the rich imaging data with the wealth of other information already available or being collected from participants, particularly their health and diseases during follow-up for many years to come.”

Dr Sara Marshall, Head of Clinical Research at the Wellcome Trust, said: “Capturing such a vast number of images of the human body, in both health and illness, will chronicle disease in a way never attempted before.

“Each day we’re discovering more and more about how genetics and lifestyle play a part in the onset and development of diseases, but this extra piece of the puzzle – seeing physical changes even before symptoms develop – will give us a completely new perspective on how we can prevent and treat them.”

Click here to read more about the project.