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The UK Biobank Imaging Project

Be part of the world’s largest whole-body scanning project to transform the way we diagnose, prevent and treat our most chronic diseases 

 

About UK Biobank's Imaging Project

The UK Biobank Imaging Project captures whole-body scans of participants as they age through safe, non-invasive methods. 850 million images have been taken so far (12,000 per person), and we still need to scan thousands more participants to hit our goal.

Imaging data can reveal why one person develops a life-altering condition when others do not.  Additionally, by combining imaging data with existing genetic and lifestyle data from our half a million participants, scientists can identify the genetic variants associated with any changes, enabling earlier diagnoses and targeted treatments of diseases.

For example, researchers can investigate how changes to retinal structure might indicate rare eye disorders, or explore the links between organ ageing and disease.

You can help us reach our goal of 100,000!

UK Biobank's imaging project started 10 years ago. You may have already had your first scan. If so, please keep an eye out for your invitation to our repeat imaging study.

 

UPDATED Imaging Progress Graphic (357 × 286Px) (800 × 641 Px) (1)

Watch BBC's Medical Editor Fergus Walsh undergo scans at UK Biobank's imaging centre.

A unique picture of health

The BBC’s Medical Editor, Fergus Walsh, reported on the need for more participants to have their first and second imaging scans. Cameras followed him during his second visit, nine years after his first, as he interviewed fellow participants in Newcastle.

"The repeat imaging of thousands of volunteers will enable researchers to see subtle changes in the body that develop over the years - these may give early warning of conditions like heart disease and dementia long before there are any symptoms. UK Biobank is largely an unsung British success story...I feel really privileged to be part of UK Biobank."

~Fergus Walsh

 

Read the latest news updates

What is involved?

  • Your visit involves joining us for 4 - 5 hours at one of our two Imaging Centres based in Bristol and Reading.

  • Your brain, heart, abdomen and bones will be scanned, plus we will collect more information about your health and lifestyle, and a donation of blood.

  • The visit is straightforward and our imaging centre team will be available on the day to assist and answer any questions you might have, as well as making sure you have a comfortable day.

  • Although MRI scanners can be a little noisy, participants tell us the time spent in the scanners can actually be relaxing, and reassuring should they ever need a scan due to ill health.

  • The insights from our Imaging Project are helping the global effort to defeat a wide range of common and life-threatening disorders, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, bone disorders and dementia.

  • Find out more

    Please read the UK Biobank Imaging Project information leaflet to find out more details or get in touch on 0800 0 276 276, Mon-Fri 09.00-17.00.

    UK Biobank Imaging Project information leaflet

UK Biobank's imaging project started 10 years ago. You may already had your first scan. If so, please keep an eye out for your invitation to our repeat imaging study.

How the UK Biobank Imaging Project is transforming health

Eye-opening retinal research

The genetic basis of rare eye diseases was explored using UK Biobank's OCT (optical coherence tomography) imaging and genomic data.

Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute found that changes to the structure of the retina, for instance to the thickness of the layers in the retina's light-detecting ‘photo receptor’ cells, may indicate retinal disorders. 

This study identified new specific genes associated with these structural changes. Such insights have generated further research questions about rare eye diseases and will help to improve future diagnoses and therapies.

Stopping the clock for organ ageing

In a world-first study looking at images of multiple organs to understand how we age, it was revealed that a specific organ’s ‘biological age’ can influence the ageing of other organ groups.

Researchers at the Universities of Melbourne and Newcastle and the National University of Singapore used UK Biobank imaging data for this research.

The study also investigated the influence of 16 chronic diseases on organ ageing. The research may help to identify individuals at risk of age-related diseases earlier, and even to limit ageing within specific organs. 

Getting to the heart of things

A recent study has revealed intricate heart-brain connections illuminating the close relationship between major cardiovascular and brain diseases such as stroke or dementia.

Researchers from three universities in America found that cardiac traits identified using MRI data (such as chamber volume) significantly influenced brain health. The research also uncovered shared genetic influences between linked heart and brain diseases.

The multi-organ focus of the study is invaluable to our understanding of how one organ’s diseases can impact another, and will pave new ways for disease risk prediction and prevention.

A step ahead of dementia

Scientists have identified a causal link between habitual napping and larger overall brain volume, the latter of which is linked to lowered risk of dementia and other diseases.

Researchers from University College London and the University of the Republic in Uruguay used genetic and MRI brain scan data from UK Biobank participants.

The study characterised genetic variants thought to determine likelihood of habitual napping. The average difference in brain volume between those genetically-programmed to habitually nap and those who are not was equivalent to 2-6 years of ageing.

Get involved and what to expect

  • 1
    Before your visit
    Please read the UK Biobank Imaging information leaflet beforehand so you can prepare for your appointment.
  • 2
    Arrival
    On arrival, you will be greeted by our friendly reception staff. You will need to give consent to take part before changing into a gown.
  • 3
    Brain scan
    You will be led through to one of our MRI scanning rooms to undergo imaging of the structure and function of your brain. This will take around 40 minutes.
  • 4
    Heart & abdomen scan
    You will move through to our second MRI scanning bed to have both your heart and abdomen imaged. Pads will be placed over your middle, which help us to take clearer images of your organs. This will take around 40 minutes.
  • 5
    DEXA & carotid scan
    We use a DEXA machine to take detailed pictures of your skeleton. We will also use an ultrasound machine, the same type used on pregnant women, to scan the two main arteries either side of your neck. These will take around 40 minutes.
  • 6
    Sample donation
    Much like when you joined UK Biobank, we will ask you for a small donation of blood. This will take around 10-15 minutes.
  • 7
    Physical measures & touchscreen questionnaires
    During your visit, we will take physical measures such as your height, weight and blood pressure. We will also ask you to undertake some touchscreen questionnaires on the computers on site. This will take 1.5 hours.
  • 8
    The end of your visit
    At the end of your appointment, you will be given a brief report of some basic measurements taken during your visit. We will also give you the travel expenses form to take away with you.
Arrival at the imaging centre
Description
Arrival at the imaging centre

UK Biobank

What to expect in the brain scan

UK Biobank

What to expect in the heart and abdomen scan

What to expect in the DEXA scan

What to expect in the carotid scan

Physical measures, touchscreen tasks and departure

I felt comfortable and reassured from the moment I entered the building. The centre is extremely well run with people who know their jobs. There with excellent communication between each department.

UK Biobank Participant, Reading

How UK Biobank Participants Found Their Imaging Visit

Find our centres

Currently You Can Attend Your Initial Imaging Scans At Our Reading And Bristol Centres

Our assessment centres

Currently you can attend your initial imaging scans at our Reading and Bristol centres.

  • Bristol Assessment Centre

    Unit G4b, Bolingbroke Way, Patchway, Bristol, BS34 6FE.

    Get directions
  • Reading Assessment Centre

    Unit 3B, Pincents Kiln Industrial Park, Pincents Kiln, Calcot, Theale, Reading RG31 7SD.

    Get directions

About your visit

Calendar Icon Our centres are open between 08.00 and 20.00, seven days a week, with the last appointment beginning at 15.20.
Car Icon We can reimburse travel expenses and free parking is available.

UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource that contains genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million UK participants, of which you are one. Volunteers who were aged between 40 and 69 years when recruited between 2006 and 2010 provided detailed information about lifestyle, as well as having physical measures taken and blood, urine and saliva samples collected and stored for future analysis.

UK Biobank’s database, which now also includes genetic data for all participants and the heart, body, brain, neck artery and bone scans from over 50,000 participants, is globally accessible to approved researchers who are undertaking health-related research that is in the public interest.

While taking part in UK Biobank is not intended to help you directly, it should give future generations a much better chance of living their lives free of diseases that disable and kill. UK Biobank’s research resource is a major contributor to the advancement of modern medicine and treatment, enabling better understanding of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses – including cancer, heart diseases, stroke and now COVID-19.

UK Biobank is generously supported by its founding funders the Medical Research Council and Wellcome, as well as the Department of Health and Social Care, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

The organisation has over 200 dedicated members of staff, based in multiple locations across the UK.

All of these scans are safe and painless. The scanners are similar to those used routinely in the NHS. However, since MRI scans involve the use of a magnet, you may not be able to take part if you have an electrical implant (for example, a pacemaker) in your body, metal in certain parts of your body, or if you have had an accident where metal may have entered your body.

If you have had recent surgery, you will not be able to take part for at least six weeks after your operation. You will also not be able to take part if you have medical problems that make it difficult to carry out the scans (for example, severe hearing or breathing problems, or tremors).

If you would like to take part but think you might not be eligible to do so, we would still like you to telephone us so that we can check this for you.

Please call 0800 0 276 276 Mon-Fri 09.00-17.00.

It is important to understand that the visit is not a clinical appointment or a health check.

We will give you information at the end of the visit about a few of the measurements we take during the assessment (blood pressure, weight, body mass index, waist circumference, percent body fat and lung function, if measured). However, we will not provide any other results or images from the scans. This is in accordance with the consent you provided when you agreed to take part in UK Biobank.
Scans are being undertaken for research purposes only.

The scans we do are not intended to diagnose disease. They are not designed to find any particular abnormalities and will not be routinely analysed by doctors or other specialists. The radiographers who do the scans will be looking at the images to make sure of their quality, rather than looking for evidence of any health problems.

However, abnormalities can show up during the scanning process on scans taken for research purposes. Most of these are no cause for concern but if the radiographer does happen to notice a potentially serious abnormality while taking the scan, 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 (regardless of whether or not it might be treatable), we will write to
you and your GP, usually within a few weeks of your visit. Please note that we are not able to provide you or your GP with copies of scans.

We would consider something to be potentially serious if your scans suggested the possibility of a condition which, if confirmed, could have a major effect on how your body functions or on your quality of life, or could be life-threatening.

For example, we would tell you and your GP if we saw an abnormality on one of your scans that looked as though it could be a malignant tumour or another similarly serious condition, such as a large swelling of the aorta (the main artery of the body).

On the other hand, we would not tell you if we saw typical appearances of gallstones, a simple cyst or scarring (e.g. on the lung) as these abnormalities are common in healthy people and are not considered serious.

We would also not tell you about something that is clearly related to a health condition that you have already told us about.

Finally, we would not tell you about a potentially serious abnormality if it was identified at a later date by researchers analysing the scans. From our experience so far, about two out of every hundred people taking part in this visit (2%) will have an abnormality that a radiologist agrees is potentially serious and which we will write to you and your GP about. About one in three of these people will turn out to have something serious that they may not have been aware of before, while two out of every three of these people will turn out to have something non-serious. This happens because something that looks suspicious on one of our research scans can turn out to be something like a benign cyst, an artefact (or technical glitch) of the scanning process, or something that you or your GP already know about (but we do not).

It is important to understand that we will not notice all potentially serious abnormalities. For this reason, if you do not receive any feedback from us about a potentially serious abnormality, you should not regard this as reassurance about your health. It should not stop you from seeing your doctor about any health concerns that you might have.

Please let us know if you would like to take part by phoning us free of charge on:
0800 0 276 276 (Mon - Fri 09.00-17.00). 

During this call, you will be able to ask us any questions that you might have. We will also ask you some questions about your medical history to check your suitability for the scans.
If you are eligible to take part, we will arrange an appointment for you.

Appointments are generally available from 08.00 to 15.20, Monday to Sunday, and last for four to five hours.

We will send you a letter confirming your appointment and give you directions to the assessment centre. If you have provided us with an email address and mobile phone number, we will also send you an email or text reminder a couple of days before your visit.

You can claim the cost of travel to the assessment centre by public or private transport, using the claim form that we will provide you with.

Train and other public transport (i.e. bus, tram, Metro or underground).
For train travel, please keep in mind the following:
• Please buy standard tickets (i.e. not first-class).
• Booking in advance usually means that you get the best value tickets. Where possible, please avoid booking open return tickets
as these tend to be the most expensive.
• Buying split tickets may reduce the overall price of your fare. See www.splitticketing.com to find out more.

Private transport (car, motorcycle or bicycle)
We will reimburse you for mileage to and from the assessment centre.

Current mileage allowances can be found in our participant travel expense claim policy at www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/travel-expenses-policy and we will advise you about this when you telephone us to enrol in the study.

Car parking
There is free parking at the centre. If you park elsewhere, you can claim car parking costs (but not fines).

Tolls and tunnel fees
Tolls and tunnel fees may be claimed.
If you need someone to help you during the journey, you can also claim travel expenses for a companion. Please be aware that space
in the Reception area of our Assessment Centres is limited and it may not be possible for your companion to wait whilst you complete your visit. We will advise you about this when you telephone us to enrol in the study.

Please keep your travel receipts and attach them to your claim form. We will provide you with one at the end of your visit.

How to take part

Contact our team today

Call our team to take part in our imaging project or if you have further questions. If you call us we will complete a short telephone questionnaire with you. This is to make sure that it is safe for us to scan you a second time.

Phone Icon

Telephone

0800 0 276 276

Contact hours:
Mon - Fri | 09.00 - 17.00

Request a telephone callback by email

If you would prefer us to contact you, please click the button on the right. When the automated email opens, please specify your name, PID, a telephone number for us to contact you on and your preferred day for callback (weekday or weekend) and time (morning, afternoon or evening).

Keeping your data private and secure

We know that information about your health and lifestyle is personal and private to you, and we made a commitment when you joined the study to protect your confidentiality. Information that identifies you – for example, your name, address and NHS number – is never shared with researchers.  

We take our commitment to protecting your data, including data from your imaging scans, very seriously. We continue to invest in the latest technology to keep us ahead of the curve.

Find out more about how we protect your data.