Many more UK Biobank participants will be invited to have their brains and hearts scanned over the next few years. They will take part in the world’s largest imaging study ever – with a goal to scan 100,000 participants.
The assessment lasts about 4-5 hours and involves imaging the heart, brain, abdomen and bones plus the collection of more information about health and lifestyle, and a donation of blood.
We are a quarter of the way to our total and already the study is providing new insights. For instance, researchers have recorded, for the first time, the direct damage that carrying extra pounds has on the heart’s weight and size, having carefully studied the structure and function of the hearts of 4,561 people. “With this research, we’ve helped to show how an unhealthy lifestyle increases your risk of heart disease. BMI and blood pressure in particular led to heavier and bigger hearts, which increases the risk of heart problems, including heart attacks,” said one of the researchers. The work was funded by the British Heart Foundation.
Imaging and Osteoarthritis
An international research collaboration will explore how the size, shape and structure of hips, knees and spines contribute to the development of fractures, osteoarthritis and back pain. Using a combination of scans and genetic data from around 100,000 UK Biobank participants, it is hoped the findings will be used to develop new ways to identify people at risk, slow disease progression and treat those with the disease.
Did you know – that depression changes the structure of the brain? So say researchers who studied the brains of more than 3,000 people who have gone through the UK Biobank imaging study. Alterations were found in parts of the brain known as white matter, which contains fibre tracts that enable brain cells to communicate with one another by electrical signals. White matter is a key component of the brain’s wiring and its disruption has been linked to problems with emotion processing and thinking skills. This is the largest analysis of its type to date.
UK Biobank will be a major focus for research into degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Our imaging will provide hundreds of brain pictures on 100,000 participants – creating a rich research resource of unbelievable size and detail. Additional genetic information and follow-up from health records will add extra value. One study of 300,000 UK Biobank participants has already uncovered three new genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The research was led by scientists at Edinburgh University and colleagues in Brisbane and New York.
Imaging 100,000 people is changing the way that research is done. Leaders in the field now include engineers and computer scientists who can focus in unimaginable detail on the scans, or look for patterns and changes that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Different specialists are working together in new ways, such as those interested in bone health and the heart, and single-organ specialists are re-thinking how important it is to know what is happening in the rest of the body.
Stop press: UK Biobank heart images may influence national air pollution policy
People exposed to air pollution levels well within UK guidelines have changes in the structure of the heart, similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure. The damage was seen by researchers, led by Professor Steffen Petersen at Queen Mary University of London, using data from 4,000 UK Biobank who have had their hearts imaged. The work was funded in part by the British Heart Foundation. The charity will use the findings to help drive changes in national air quality policy. Even though most participants lived outside major UK cities, there was a clear association between those who lived near loud, busy roads, and were exposed to pollution and the development of larger right and left ventricles in the heart. These are important pumping chambers in the heart and, although these participants were healthy and had no symptoms, similar heart remodelling is seen in the early stages of heart failure. Higher exposures to the pollutants were linked to more significant changes in the structure of the heart. “We can’t expect people to move home to avoid air pollution – Government and public bodies must act to make all areas safe and protect the population from these harms,” said the charity.