Might computer simulations herald personalized medicine?

virtual-trialClinical trials are widely regarded as being something of a failed method at ensuring the latest medicines find their way to patients in a quick, yet safe manner.  With most drugs spending over 10 years in development, the costs involved can be prohibitive, especially for the kind of personalized medicines that are increasingly demanded.

A team from the University of Sheffield believe that this process can be simplified by using digital models of our organs.  It’s a process known as ‘in silico medicine’ and involves computer simulations of the human body.

Virtual trials

The system is ultimately planned for use in the clinic, but there are early and obvious applications in the clinical trial process.  For instance, radiographers will be able to run heart simulations alongside the cardiologist, with results almost instantaneous.

The project is run via the university’s Insigneo Institute, which is the largest research center in Europe devoted to study of this approach, with a showcase of progress undertaken each year.

A nice example of the approach was shown at this years event, with a virtual model developed for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which is currently diagnosed via an invasive catheter.  By using data generated from a MRI scan, the equivalent data can be generated non-invasively.  The model was put through its paces in a recent study involving 450 patients, with comparable data generated.

“Two-thirds of the patients we assessed could be correctly diagnosed with PAH using our model, which meant only those patients where diagnosis was unclear would have had to have the catheter test if this was in full clinical use,” the researchers say.

“Many clinical trials in pulmonary hypertension also use the catheter test as an outcome measure, but it could provide a significant advantage to be able to replace it with a less invasive MRI scan, as our model also provides more detailed information on physical changes to the heart itself.”

Suffice to say, the approach is still at a very early stage, but the team are already testing it out on other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, with promising early results.

It’s a fascinating approach, and the Insigneo Institute are undoubtedly at the forefront of this transition to a more virtual approach to conducting research and diagnosis.

“In the future, such detailed digital models of diseases and the structure of organs could be used to help diagnose conditions, understand the impact of surgical interventions and even run digital drug trials. The presentations and debates at this year’s Insigneo Showcase show how both research and industry are moving closer towards this goal.” the Institute say.


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