Scientists are scanning brains to create a collection of images that could help lead to new research breakthroughs faster

Finding a cure or treatments for dementia is a major priority for governments around the world, and now UK scientists are hoping that by collecting over 100,000 brain scans from people, they could help to shed new light on the condition.

Prof Paul Matthews, chairman of the UK Biobank imaging expert working group, which is organising the collation of the brain scans, said:

‘Imaging is usually expensive. This limits what researchers could access. The consequence is there have been a lot of small studies, each, rather ineffectively, used by one set of researchers.

‘Having a common, large database to expand the scope and quality of biomedical research studies, and massively lower the cost of making new discoveries, promises the opportunity for new breakthroughs faster.’

It’s hoped this study, which is the largest of its kind, could lead to findings on a par with the investigation that first linked smoking to lung cancer.

Past scanning research has only used hundreds of participants, so a new database on this scale, using MRI and other methods, will hugely boost the “scope and quality” of research.

‘We may find out the earliest changes in diseases – for example, markers for conditions like Alzheimer’s – years before they happen, to let doctors in the future think about treating people before the disease really starts to express itself,’ says Professor Matthews. ‘And maybe this kind of imaging could help us find new kinds of treatments.’

The UK Biobank research project has been tracking the health of half a million volunteers who enrolled aged 40-69, starting in 2006. They’re being followed for at least another 25 years.