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The UK Biobank Imaging Study aims to conduct detailed MRI imaging scans of the vital organs of over 100,000 participants, making it the largest of its kind in the world.
Together with the information we have already collected from our participants, these images will help to improve the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of diseases.
Take a look at the videos on this site to find out more about the imaging study. All video transcripts are available in the 'Further documents' section.
Now hear from our experts.
The UK Biobank Imaging Study is one of the most ambitious and exciting health research opportunities in recent years. It will provide an unprecedented level of information to help scientists and doctors working on a wide range of illnesses.Get in touch
Abnormalities can show up on scans taken for research during the scanning process. Most of these are no cause for concern. But, if the radiographer does happen to notice a potentially serious abnormality while taking the scans, they will refer the scans after your visit to a specialist doctor (radiologist) for review. If the radiologist agrees that the abnormality is potentially serious we will write to you and your GP to tell you.
12 Dec 2019
UK Biobank is nearly halfway to its goal of collating 100,000 scans of vital organs to form the world’s largest collection. A Shrewsbury resident became the 30,000th volunteer on Wednesday at the Stockport assessment centre, which supports the work of two other scanning centres. These high quality pictures of hearts, brains, bones and abdomens will be used by scientists to discover why some people develop life-threatening diseases and others do not.
Ms. Lesley Milne, 72, travelled nearly two hours to the assessment centre in greater Manchester. She said:
“Seeing how it’s making huge leaps to improve healthcare for our future generations is the biggest reward anyone could get. I’m so proud to be part of this project!”
Over 38,000 volunteers from Manchester took part in the initial assessment between 2006 and 2013. These participants are being invited for imaging scans of their heart, brain, bones, abdomen and main arteries. Approved scientists use this information to understand how genes, environment and lifestyle choices lead to certain diseases.
Professor Naomi Allen, UK Biobank’s Chief Scientist, said:
“An imaging resource of this scale is unparalleled in the world of health research, and we’re not even halfway through the project. Combining the wealth of information already available from our 500,000 participants – which includes data on lifestyle and genetic factors – with these powerful imaging data will help transform the health of future populations.”
The imaging data allows for a wide range of studies on illnesses like dementia, stroke, heart disease and weakening of the bones and frailty in later life. Researchers will use findings to help discover new ways of treating and preventing these conditions.
“UK Biobank has been truly transformative in the way that research into common diseases is conducted. The breadth and depth of the available data is simply staggering. This accelerates the speed and clinical impact of new discoveries for population benefit… it’s simply amazing!”Professor Martin Rutter, Professor of Cardiometabolic Medicine and Honorary Consultant Physician at Manchester University
The assessment centres in Newcastle and Reading support the work of the main scanning centre in Stockport which have scanned almost 20,000 participants between them. A new centre in Bristol will be open next year to further support the project.
12 Nov 2019
Final steps have been taken preparing for thousands of people in and around Bristol to undergo detailed imaging as part of the world’s largest scanning project.
Two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, weighing 7 and 5 tons, have been delivered to the purpose built facility in the Patchway area. These will obtain images of participant’s brains, hearts, bones and blood vessels. Building work is nearing completion on the multi-million pound imaging centre which is set to open in the New Year. This is a major enhancement of the UK Biobank project and the biggest of its kind.
UK Biobank recruited 43,000 volunteer participants from the Bristol area in July 2008. Participants agreed to have their health followed to help find out why some people get painful and life threatening diseases, including dementia and cancer, whilst others do not.
“This next phase of the UK Biobank project is the biggest and boldest yet. The project aims to image 100,000 of its half a million volunteers and nearly 50,000 have already been through the procedure in Reading, Manchester and Newcastle.
Adding this detailed extra information from images will help in many ways. For instance, it should identify early changes that increase the risk of developing disease, and it may suggest new ways to slow that process, or to prevent disease altogether.”
Professor Rory Collins, UK Biobank Principal Investigator
It is hoped that UK Biobank participants, who first volunteered for the project around 11 years ago, will help again to create the most detailed study of its kind ever undertaken. The first participants at the Bristol site are due to be scanned in the early months of next year, with thousands more to follow.
15 Oct 2019
UK Biobank imaging data has enabled researchers to develop a new method to identify people with low muscle volume and poor functional muscle performance in conditions such as sarcopenia. This novel method could pave the way to standardised assessment of the condition to better treat patients.
Sarcopenia is a condition characterised by gradual loss of muscle mass and can have disease-related complications, which can greatly affect the quality of life for those with the condition.
Accurately assessing sarcopenia is difficult due to muscle volume and function being influenced by several factors such as age, weight, fitness, pain and disease. Weight is an area which presents an opportunity for improved diagnosis of the condition, as in current definitions sarcopenia is seen to decrease as BMI increases, yet contrarily as BMI increases, functional muscle performance declines.
Researchers accessed MRI scans of the body for 9,600 UK Biobank participants to analyse body composition. Using advanced imaging analytics software they quantified both fat free muscle volume and muscle fat infiltration. These were compared against an innovative measure, a virtual control group matched by sex and BMI to the UK Biobank data.
In line with current healthcare muscle assessments, the clinical value of this new combined method for sarcopenia was evaluated by looking at associations with hand grip strength, walking pace, stair climbing, falls, and health care burden and compared with separate evaluations using either fat-free muscle volume or muscle fat infiltration.
Assessing fat-free muscle volume and muscle fat infiltration through the use of body imaging showed the highest diagnostic performance for detecting low function. It is hoped this method could inform diagnosis practices, enable cross-study comparisons, and further the field of sarcopenia research leading to better treatment for patients.
UK Biobank has already imaged almost 50,000 participants and is planning to double that number in the next three years. Professor Rory Collins, UK Biobank Principal Investigator, said: “It is encouraging to see important work like this being generated on body images of 10,000 UK Biobank participants. As the technology to do this type of research improves, we anticipate further exciting advances that will help scientists find ways to ensure we live healthier lives for longer.”
30 Sep 2019
MRI images from almost 4,000 UK Biobank participants have shown that diabetes causes subtle structural changes to the heart, say scientists. One of the earliest signs of heart disease in people with diabetes may be that all four chambers of the heart become smaller.
The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in Circulation Cardiovascular Imaging, shows for the first time the extent to which diabetes affects the heart muscle.
These early changes in the heart muscle could be used to understand and detect heart damage related to diabetes, allowing action to be taken before the damage can lead to serious heart problems.
Around 4.7 million people are living with diabetes in the UK. Adults with diabetes are up to three times more likely to develop heart and circulatory diseases, and are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as those without diabetes.
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body – to study the hearts of 3,984 people. They compared the hearts of people with diabetes to those without the disease.
People with diabetes had key differences in all of the heart’s four chambers. The left ventricle – responsible for pumping oxygenated blood around the body – was smaller and the walls were thicker, a change which can lead to heart failure. Surprisingly, the other three chambers of the heart were all also smaller in people with diabetes, with the volume of each chamber shrinking by roughly a teaspoon.
The researchers believe that these changes may be the heart’s way of responding to early, minor damage caused by diabetes. Smaller and thicker hearts have an easier time maintaining the pumping function compared to larger hearts.
Importantly, these subtle changes could be detected before people developed more serious heart muscle damage and related heart diseases. The researchers hope that this information could ultimately be used to detect heart damage early in people with diabetes so that they can be given appropriate medical treatment.
Professor Rory Collins, UK Biobank Principal Investigator, thanks participants for taking part in the imaging study which has taken pictures of the hearts, brains, abdomens and bones of more than 40,000 people so far. Invitations are being sent out currently “but if anyone has had an invite and wasn’t sure about attending, this is a great example of the important research that our imaging study supports,” he said.
Any participants who have received an invitation and not responded can do so by calling the UK Biobank Participant Resource Centre on freephone 0800 0 276 276 8am-6pm Monday-Friday and 8am-4pm Saturdays.
Read the published paper: Changes in Cardiac Morphology and Function in Individuals With Diabetes Mellitus
“People with diabetes are around two times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and may go on to develop other circulatory problems such as vascular dementia. Combined, these conditions cost the NHS a staggering £1.5 million every hour.
“By understanding the relationship between diabetes and heart disease we’re one step closer to being able to break the link between these two deadly diseases.”Professor Jeremy Pearson, BHF Associate Medical Director
If you would like to speak to someone, please call our free phone Participant Resource Centre on 0800 0 276 276, 8am-6pm Monday to Friday and 8am-4pm on Saturday.
You should call the PRC if you wish to confirm or change your appointment, or update your contact details.
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If you are travelling to an appointment you can claim reasonable expenses (25p/mile for a car). If coming by train, it would really help us if you could consider booking your ticket in advance, to get the best value for money.
You can book online and pick up your tickets at the station. You can buy "split tickets" that may reduce the overall price you pay. Visit the website: splitticketing.com to find out more. Money saved will help us create a better resource for research.