U.K. launches massive scanning project

A U.K. research organization said it has launched a large study across the country that will involve scanning more than 100,000 participants to transform the way medicine looks at a wide variety of diseases including dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks, and stroke.

The study will image the brain, heart, bones, carotid arteries, and abdominal fat of 100,000 participants of UK Biobank, a project set up in 2006 that aims to improve health across the U.K., the organization said.

Funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation, UK Biobank will spend 43 million pounds (54.2 million euros) to create a vast collection of images of internal organs that it will use to transform diagnosis and treatment of common diseases while providing context to smaller studies, the organization stated.

The multiorgan scans will be analyzed along with data already collected from UK Biobank participants, according to the organization. The existing data covers lifestyle, weight, height, diet, physical activity, and cognitive function of 500,000 participants, with linkage to a wide range of health records including those from general practices, UK Biobank said.

A just-completed initial study of 8,000 patients included:

  • MRI evaluation of heart chamber diameter, the volume of blood flow, and how the heart changes as it pumps blood around the body
  • MRI measures of brain structure and function, volumes of gray 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 the carotid arteries

"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," said Dr. Sara Marshall, head of clinical research at Wellcome Trust, in a statement.

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