As part of the world's largest medical imaging study, about 100000 volunteers in the UK will undergo brain and body scanning. The project, which is being launched on 14 April, will help in the creation of a massive databank to assist medical practitioners study the origin and progress of diseases in a human body.
Under the project, volunteers' bodies and brains will be scanned to create an image library comprising details of their bones, brains, arteries, hearts, and distribution of fat around their midriffs. These will be combined with already available medical information of the participants to form a final database of images, which are expected to be equivalent to 500 ebooks worth of data per person, the Guardian reported.
The project will also include the 500,000 middle-aged people who volunteered for the UK BioBank project launched in 2006. These volunteers have already donated their blood and tissues and researchers have already studied their DNA and lifestyles. Their cognitive abilities have also been scored with online tests. The UK BioBank project was a study of medical and lifestyle data of citizens – when they were ill as well as when they were in a healthy state.
Under the new study, the medical information gathered from all the 100,000 participants will be measured, shared and compared to help doctors study links between the environment, genetics, lifestyle, dietary habits of people and their health.
Stephen Smith at the Oxford University Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain was quoted as saying that six different brain scans will be conducted on each participant during a 30-minute session that will provide detailed information on the person's brain anatomy, electrical activity and the wiring of white matter.
"This is truly big data. We can learn early, possibly subtle, markers for diseases like Alzheimer's. Discover those, and doctors can identify people for early interventions," Smith said, noting that the data can change with ageing and disease.
The data will be shared with scientists across the world, who can use it to develop new tests to detect diseases in their earliest stages and discover possible remedies for them.
"These images will help us understand the risk factors that could be used to prevent future disease, just as the discovery of a link between smoking and cancer helped us change the entire prevalence of that disease," Paul Matthews, head of Brain Sciences at Imperial College, London was quoted as saying.
Some images like that of the heart, arteries and veins can help in studying changes occurring due to ageing, while some others can help doctors test several hypotheses. Those participating in the research will not receive any feedback on their health, unless there are any serious abnormalities in scans.