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Feasibility of Multi-site Clinical Structural Neuroimaging Studies of Aging Using Legacy Data


The application of advances in biomedical computing to medical imaging research is enabling scientists to conduct quantitative clinical imaging studies using data collected across multiple sites to test new hypotheses on larger cohorts, increasing the power to detect subtle effects. Given that many research groups have valuable existing (legacy) data, one goal of the Morphometry Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN) Testbed is to assess the feasibility of pooled analyses of legacy structural neuroimaging data in normal aging and Alzheimer's disease. The present study examined whether such data could be meaningfully reanalyzed as a larger combined data set by using rigorous data curation, image analysis, and statistical modeling methods; in this case, to test the hypothesis that hippocampal volume decreases with age and to investigate findings of hippocampal asymmetry. This report describes our work with legacy T1-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) and demographic data related to normal aging that have been shared through the BIRN by three research sites. Results suggest that, in the present application, legacy MR data from multiple sites can be pooled to investigate questions of scientific interest. In particular, statistical analyses suggested that a mixed-effects model employing site as a random effect best fits the data, accounting for site-specific effects while taking advantage of expected comparability of age-related effects. In the combined sample from three sites, significant age-related decline of hippocampal volume and right-dominant hippocampal asymmetry were detected in healthy elderly controls. These expected findings support the feasibility of combining legacy data to investigate novel scientific questions.

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