UK Biobank creating world's largest longitudinal imaging data set to track disease progression

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | September 29, 2022
CT Molecular Imaging MRI Ultrasound X-Ray
UK Biobank and its partners are performing repeat scanning on patients to form the largest longitudinal imaging dataset to track disease progression in humans.
UK Biobank has partnered with the Medical Research Council, Calico Life Sciences and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative on a $30 million endeavor to utilize repeat scanning on 60,000 participants to better track and understand disease progression in humans as they age.

The first phase of the baseline project began in 2014 and has resulted in the world's largest imaging data set. Researchers involved have captured MR data from the brains, hearts and abdomens; bone density; and ultrasound scans of the carotid arteries for over 50,000 participants.

They plan to collect more from up to 100,000 over the next two years and will initiate a second phase, which involves repeat imaging on 60,000, two to seven years after their initial scan. Repeat imaging can show pre-symptomatic changes in the structure and function of the brain over time, particularly for dementia risk.

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“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,” said professor Paul Matthews, head of the department of brain sciences and the UK Dementia Research Institute Centre at Imperial College London, and chair of the UK Biobank Imaging Working Group, in a statement.

Imaging data from the project will be combined with phenotypic and genetic data to derive insights into a wide range of diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative conditions. The researchers hope to use this data to improve their ability to diagnose conditions before symptoms occur.

Another team of scientists at Oxford University previously used repeat imaging during the pandemic on about 2,000 UK Biobank participants. Combined with scans from before the outbreak, the new data showed short-term changes associated with mild infection in specific parts of the brain, especially in relation to taste and smell.

In the same study, repeat imaging showed no evidence of continuous changes to the heart in those who contracted COVID-19, but a separate one found a small but statistically significant decrease in lung volume brought on by the infection.

“Repeat imaging in large human cohorts like the UK Biobank will provide a dynamic view of individual aging trajectories in ways unmatched by other approaches,” said Arthur Levinson, co-founder and CEO at Calico.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the data set project was worth $30 billion. It is worth $30 million. HCB News has updated the story and apologizes for the mistake.

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