Using brain scans to investigate changes in the brain over time

Prof Nick Fox and Dr Jon Schott are studying brain scans to investigate changes in the brain over time in a longitudinal amyloid-PET/MRI study of the 1946 birth cohort.



The MRC National Survey of Health and Development initially tracked 5,362 people since their birth in 1946, and 2,800 remain under active follow-up, contributing to almost seven decades of pioneering research. This incredible group of people have had regular assessments as birthdays have come and gone, to help researchers at the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL understand more about the impact of life on health. Now they’re approaching 70, they’re giving back a unique gift to research by agreeing to take part in a brain imaging study to reveal important insights into dementia.

Watch this video to learn more about the MRC National Survey of Health and Development and how it has evolved to offer valuable insight into how we age:

A landmark study that has been following a group of people since their birth in the same week in March 1946 is now turning its focus to the risk factors and early signs of dementia, thanks to a £5m funding boost from Alzheimer’s Research UK, Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, the Medical Research Council (MRC) Dementias Platform UK and the Wolfson Foundation.

The study has the potential to reveal important insight into the diseases that cause dementia, shed more light on lifetime risk factors, and influence many areas of dementia research. By characterising how and when diseases like Alzheimer’s start to develop in the brain, the team can better understand the molecular processes driving dementia and help to define a critical window for future clinical trials to have the best chance of success.

The study aims to gain important insights into early brain changes in diseases like Alzheimer’s, compared to normal ageing. The volunteers have begun to have their first brain scans as part of the study and will also provide blood, urine and DNA samples. The team is using the latest PET scanning techniques to look for signs of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, in the brain, as well as studying MRI scans to see structural and functional changes in the brain. They will examine how these brain images relate to the volunteers’ performance on memory and thinking assessments. This research team will also look for markers in blood and urine that could provide early indicators of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.


The volunteers have already started to have their first scans and we’ll be keeping you up-to-date with the latest developments in this pioneering five-year study. The blood and urine samples will also be made available for analysis by other research teams looking to develop innovative ways to detect these diseases at a very early stage.

The current funding for this project will allow the team to follow the volunteers for two years, but the team already hopes to expand their work to map the genetics of individuals as well as continuing to monitor them for many years to build a complete picture of their health and brain function in later life.Biomarker-v2_NoLogo

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Awarded to
Dr Jonathan Schott and Prof Nick Fox

University College London

Current Award
£3m ARUK commitment, including funding from the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation

1 October 2013 - 30 September 2017

Full project name
Using brain scans to investigate changes in the brain over time - A longitudinal amyloid-PET/MRI study of the 1946 birth cohort.

Would you spend your 70th birthday in a brain scanner?

Visit our blog to read about Insight 46.

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Landmark 69-year study to provide window into dementia

Read our news release launching Insight 46.

Read our release