What is imaging data?

Imaging data comes from a scan or test that takes a picture of the body (an image). This may include the image itself or information about the image. This includes things like echocardiography (ECG), chest X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), single photon emission tomography (SPECT), positron emission tomography (PET), invasive coronary angiography, retinal imaging, histology images, and many more.

What are the potential benefits for using imaging data for research?

Using imaging data in research has lots of potential benefits for patients and the public. In the UK people are currently living with heart and circulatory disease. Research using imaging data can help with many things, including improving the understanding and treatment of heart and circulatory disease.

Some imaging data is made during research studies into new types of scans or tests. But many images are also made during routine scans that patients have as part of their usual clinical care. The information in these images can be used researchers looking for new ways to diagnose and treat heart and circulatory disease.

How do the different types of imaging scans work, and what information do they give?

Chest X-ray



Computed tomography (CT)

Magnetic resonance imaging

  • Uses magnetic and radio waves to make a picture of the heart, brain or blood vessels
  • It can look at

Coronary angiogram (also called cardiac catheterization, invasive coronary angiogram)

  • Uses x-rays and contrast dye to make a picture of the blood vessels that supply the heart
  • A catheter is directed through the blood vessels to the heart using x-rays to guide it
  • It can look at the blood vessels of the heart, or elsewhere in the body
  • More information can be found here: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/tests/angiogram

Single-photon emission tomography (SPECT)

Positron emission tomography (PET)

Electrocardiography (ECG)

  • Looks at the rhythm, rate and electrical activity of the heart.
  • Electrical signals from the heart are detected from sticky patches, electrodes, that are attached to the chest.
  • More information can be found here: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/tests/ecg


How is imaging data currently collected and stored?

When an imaging test is done imaging data is saved in a standard format. For many imaging tests this format is called DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine). This is the imaging equivalent of .jpeg, which is used to save photos on a computer or smartphone. As well as the images, the DICOM format also contains information about the images (called the metadata).

A computer system is used to store and look at the images, called PACS (Picture archiving and communication system). This is used by imaging doctors to look at the images, make a diagnosis and write a report.

For research, imaging data can be anonymised and stored by researchers, for example in a PACS systems or in a Trusted Research Environment. Researchers can then look at the images, or use computer software to assess the images.