Many common diseases, including Alzheimer’s, asthma, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, Parkinson’s, and psychiatric disorders, are complex conditions that not only cause major human suffering but also represent a burden to society in terms of healthcare cost and loss of economic productivity. Successful treatment of these diseases remains elusive because they do not have roots in single defects but are caused by a large number of small, often additive effects arising from genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and the environment. The development of new prevention strategies, leading to the promotion of health, requires several steps: establishment of diagnostic biomarkers, elucidation of the molecular processes involved, understanding of the causal pathways, and identification of high risk groups. In all these steps biomedical imaging at the population level plays a key role.
Searchable repositories of bio-medical data from population-based, prospective health surveys — repositories which include imaging together with associated information about the individual subject — have thus become indispensable to elucidate molecular processes and causal pathways, be they genetic or environmental, and to translate biomedical research into real improvements in healthcare. Dedicated facilities will enable data collection and increase the volume of data which can be collected, enlarging the size of the data repositories. With larger repositories and with more data able to be directly compared and communally analyzed, biomarkers for rare pathologies will be able to be detected, with the accompanying benefits for personalized prevention and/or early treatment.