UK Biobank’s goal is to create the most useful resource it can to help scientists now and in the future improve the prevention and treatment of a wide range of common, painful and life-threatening disorders. We can’t do this without your help – for which we are enormously grateful.
One of our big ambitions is to image (or scan) 100,000 participants. This is a huge and exciting undertaking – nothing on this scale has ever been done before. A feasibility study is now underway, and is already the most detailed study of its kind ever undertaken.
The health information these images could provide will be a game-changer for research into many disorders, from bone diseases like osteoporosis, to heart and brain disorders (including cancers and memory-based illnesses). This is particularly so because, unlike many other scanning projects, our imaging data will be much larger and linked to lots of other important information that you have already provided.
The following types of imaging are being undertaken:
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This type of scan uses painless magnetic waves to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body (such as organs, tissues and bones). We would like to take two scans: one of the brain and the other of the heart and of the body (mainly covering the abdomen). The scanners are similar to those used in the NHS, except for being a little wider so that people are as comfortable as possible.
• Brain MRI scan. This will provide information about the structure and function of the brain. It will enable us to obtain information on, for example, which parts of the brain are important for carrying out certain tasks and how different parts of the brain are connected.
• Heart and body MRI scan. This will provide information on the size of the heart chambers and blood vessels, and changes in heart size as it beats. It will also provide detailed information on the amount and distribution of fat in the body.
Neck artery ultrasound scan. This scan uses ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) to produce pictures of the blood vessels on either side of the neck. They will help scientists study the build-up of fatty substances (like cholesterol) in these major blood vessels.
Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) scan. This scan uses low energy X-rays to provide a precise measure of bone density throughout the body. Detailed pictures of the spine, hips and knees will help scientists studying diseases like arthritis.
Invitations are on their way
If you have received a scanning invitation and taken part – then thank you so much. Your contribution is enormously valuable.
If you have received an invite and are still thinking about it – please get in touch if you have any questions (or visit our imaging website). It is not too late to make an appointment. We understand that taking part is a long day (the assessment lasts four hours) in an unusual environment, but you may be interested to know that the vast majority of people who have been scanned would do it again – and would recommend the experience to a friend.
If you have not received an invitation yet – please do keep an eye out if you live in the Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Stoke and Leeds areas. In due course we will open new assessment centres to give people in other parts of the country the opportunity to take part.
There is no doubt that UK Biobank is already one of the biggest, and certainly the most detailed health resource of its kind. The interest we receive from the scientific community attests to that. Please help us make this imaging project a success.
If you have had an invitation to take part and want to follow it up, please contact the UK Biobank Participant Resource Centre on 0800 0 276 276 Monday-Saturday 8am-7pm; free from most landlines but charges may apply from mobile phones.
More information can be found on our imaging site: http://imaging.ukbiobank.ac.uk/