The world’s largest health imaging study, led by UK scientists, including members of the University of Westminster and funded by the British Heart Foundation, the Medical Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust has been launched.

Scanning over 100,000 Britons, the study will create the biggest scans of internal organs, and transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart disease 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 to create a research resource of half a million people across the UK to improve health. 

The University of Westminster’s Professor Jimmy Bell from the Faculty of Science and Technology’s Department of Life Sciences, is part of the UK Biobank Imaging Expert Working Group. 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.

Speaking about the study from a University of Westminster perspective, Professor Bell said:
“This work puts us in a unique position to be the driving force in answering major clinical and scientific questions of our times, including obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancers.” 

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 diabetes, 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.

Dr Sara Marshall, Head of Clinical Research at the Wellcome Trust, said:
“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.” 

An initial study of 8,000 participants has just been completed at a purpose-built scanning facility at UK Biobank’s headquarters in Stockport, which is now being used for the main study. 

Professor Jimmy Bell is the director of the University of Westminster’s Research Centre for Optimal Health (ReCOH), which aims to create a partnership between basic research, imaging, computing and psychology to determine the molecular and physiological events that lead to attainment and maintenance of optimal health.


Image credit: Professor Jimmy Bell, Dr Louise Thomas, and AMRA (Advanced MR Analytics)

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