1st Workshop Population Imaging March 26, 2009, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Report Workshop Population Imaging and EURO-BioImaging

Present were 38 delegates of the Erasmus Medical Centre, Academic Medical Centre, Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre, Leiden University Medical Centre, University Medical Centre Groningen, Maastricht University Medical Centre, University Medical Centre Utrecht, St Radboud University Medical Centre, RIVM, Technical University Delft and ZonMw, The Netherlands.

In his opening speech Prof. dr. H. Pols, dean of the Erasmus MC, stressed the importance of the EURO-BioImaging initiative and the support of the NFU (Dutch Federation of University Medical Centres) for the European Population Imaging Infrastructure initiative. Moreover, he emphasized the fact that cooperation is essential for obtaining funding on a national as well as a European level.

The EURO-BioImaging Research infrastructure will give access to imaging technologies with wide applicability, in biological as well as medical research, from molecule to patient. EURO-BioImaging will be organized into strongly interlinked nodes, categorized into  ‘Advanced Light Microscopy Nodes’, ‘Medical Imaging Nodes’ and three ‘Common Nodes’ which will provide communal resources for data processing, databases and the use of animal models. One of the Medical Imaging Nodes will be the European Population Imaging Infrastructure.

The ultimate aim of the Population-Based Imaging node within the EURO-BioImaging proposal is to help the development and implementation of strategies to prevent or effectively treat (early-stage) disease. By imaging in large, prospective epidemiological studies on the population level image-specific markers of pre-symptomatic diseases can be used to investigate causes of pathological alterations and for the early identification of people at risk. The Netherlands has immense expertise  in both biomedical imaging and in qualitatively high epidemiological research, and is thus in an excellent position for the implementation of this node.

The goal of this first workshop was to obtain support for a cooperation between the large population studies in The Netherlands and the centres that are already equipped with the know-how and skills in imaging, in order to give footing to the Population-Based Imaging node. Information was shared about current large population studies and the potential for imaging for these studies.

In summary, it can be stated that an extremely large amount of research is performed on the population level in the Netherlands. Some centres already have experience with imaging in population studies, in particular the Erasmus MC, Leiden UMC and UMC Utrecht. In many other cohorts, potential and interest exists for a combination of imaging technologies and applications. The major topics being studied are ageing, obesitas, chronic disorders such as DM2, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and growth and development of children.  Several studies have already set up a biobank. Genome Wide Associations (GWA) offer a tremendous amount of information and therefore are particularly interesting to link to imaging.

The centres that have experience with population imaging presented the advantages and challenges of population imaging (Prof. dr. M.A. van Buchem/Leiden and Dr. A. van der Lugt/Erasmus). Imaging in a non-clinical environment increases the availability, and also the accessibility of participants. A good quality control and specialised personnel are of vital importance. Linking imaging centres to the UMC’s therefore appears to be a good idea. Data transfer and data storage require a central organisation with large capacity. The same goes for data analysis, which preferably should take place (semi)automatically. A good cooperation between the larger image processing groups in the Netherlands is imperative for this objective.

Other topics that were discussed and that need further study are:

– Location and management of dedicated infrastructure, logistics, the mobility of image devices;

– Advanced techniques other than MRI;

– Standardisation / robustness of data;

– Data sharing, harmonizing studies, public accessibility of data;

– Incidental findings.

These and other topics will have to be addressed in the Preparatory Phase (2-3 years duration). A small working group (with representatives from the fields of epidemiology, radiology and image processing) will be formed to work out future plans.

Before the end of 2009 a business plan should be developed, which should be submitted in order to obtain financial support for the Preparatory Phase.