Groundbreaking Whole-Body Scanning Study by UK Biobank Enters Second Phase

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(IN BRIEF) UK Biobank has entered the second stage of its whole-body scanning study, where 60,000 volunteers will be re-scanned to analyze changes that have occurred since their initial scans. The study, conducted in collaboration with organizations such as the Medical Research Council and Wellcome, aims to understand how people’s brains, hearts, abdomens, and bones age. By comparing the data with health and genetic information, researchers hope to advance the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of major diseases. The unique dataset will be made available to approved researchers globally, facilitating collaborative research efforts. The study has already yielded methods for predicting an individual’s genetic risk for various conditions.

(PRESS RELEASE) SWINDON, 18-May-2023 — /EuropaWire/ — UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom that directs research and innovation funding, announces that UK Biobank, the renowned biomedical database and research resource, has embarked on the second stage of its innovative whole-body scanning study by re-scanning 60,000 volunteers.

As a leading source of in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants, UK Biobank aims to accelerate research into the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of major diseases by utilizing images from the world’s largest whole-body scanning study. In this phase, scientists will analyze how participants’ brains, hearts, abdomens, and bones have aged, thereby enhancing our understanding of various diseases.

The imaging study is the result of a collaborative effort involving the Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome, British Heart Foundation, and Dementias Platform UK. Additional funding for the re-scanning of 60,000 participants has been provided by MRC, Calico, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).

Since 2014, UK Biobank has collected extensive body scanning data utilizing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, X-ray, and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) techniques. The objective is to image 100,000 participants.

In the second stage, 60,000 individuals are returning to undergo their second scan, enabling scientists to observe changes that have occurred since their initial scans, taken two to seven years ago.

During the five-hour scanning session, patients undergo various assessments, including MRI scans of the brain, heart, and abdomen, DEXA measurements of bone density, and ultrasounds of carotid arteries.

Comparisons of the data obtained from the scans are crucial for understanding the development of diseases that typically manifest later in life, such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative conditions.

By cross-referencing the imaging data with existing health and genetic information in UK Biobank, scientists can gain insights into the mechanisms underlying disease progression over time. This approach may enable pre-symptomatic diagnoses of conditions like dementia by examining how changes in brain structure and function impact disease risk, leading to earlier therapeutic interventions.

Facilitating collaboration and research, this unparalleled and comprehensive dataset will be made available to approved researchers worldwide, allowing for invaluable comparative studies between baseline and repeat-imaging data.

The study has already yielded methods capable of predicting an individual’s genetic risk for a wide range of conditions.

Professor Paul Matthews, Chair of the UK Biobank Imaging Working Group and the MRC Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, and Head of the Department of Brain Sciences and UK Dementia Research Institute Centre at Imperial College London, said:

“UK Biobank’s biomedical database is already the most comprehensive database in the world for scientific and health related research.

“The collection of a repeat set of whole-body scans on such a large scale will enable many more fundamental discoveries, better understanding of early disease stages and their diagnosis, and support the development of new treatments for diseases of mid-to-later life.

“We are grateful to the MRC, Calico and CZI for their generous funding of this project and to the incredible UK Biobank participants without whose dedication and altruism we would not be able to conduct this ambitious study.”

Professor Sir Rory Collins, Principal Investigator of UK Biobank:

“Most large studies typically scan just a single body part of a few thousand people, so this project is truly unique as not only are we working at a vastly bigger scale, but we record images of multiple parts of each person’s body, so you can study the whole individual and see how it all relates.”

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