The world’s largest health imaging study, funded by the Medical Research Council, EFC member the Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation was launched on the 14th April It will create the biggest collection of scans of internal organs, and transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases, including dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

The £40m study will involve imaging the brain, heart, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat of 100,000 current participants of UK Biobank, a visionary project set up in 2006 by the MRC and Wellcome Trust to create a research resource of half a million people across the UK to improve health.

The multi-organ scans will be analysed alongside the vast data already collected from UK Biobank participants. This extra layer of data, for all health scientists to access, will give new perspectives on the best way to prevent and treat multi-faceted conditions like arthritis, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis. It will also spark novel ways to analyse and interpret scans, with potential benefits for research as well as for the investigation of patients in the future.

For the last ten years UK Biobank has gathered huge quantities of data on its 500,000 participants – including their lifestyle, weight, height, diet, physical activity and cognitive function, as well as genetic data from blood samples. Linkage to a wide range of health records is also under way, including data from general practices.

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.”

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