Will A Health Avatar Transform Healthcare?

The huge potential of medical data to transform healthcare is something I’ve written about a huge amount over the last few years.  Progress has been frustratingly slow, but one of the more interesting projects in the field is Health EU, an EU backed venture to give each of us a ‘medical avatar’ that contains all of our personal data.

The project is being led by École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in collaboration with the Institute for Human Organ and Disease Model Technologies based in the Netherlands.

They believe that the avatar will enable healthcare providers to prevent disease, provide early diagnoses and more accurate monitoring of chronic conditions.

“We are offering a possible solution to problems faced by the current healthcare model, which is not economically sustainable because of the extremely high costs it entails,” the team explain.

Health avatar

The avatar aims to be a digital twin of the individual.  This will provide a digital replica of a person (or object) that will allow tests to be performed and variables measured, with the learnings from these experiments then applied in the real world.

It’s an approach that is common in other industries, such as aerospace, but is still untested in healthcare.

“Avatars are not simple digital models,” the team say. “They will be developed and calibrated continuously on the basis of a large amount of customized data, collected experimentally during our day-to-day lives. Advanced models will be developed using artificial intelligence. Behind the scenes, we will create the infrastructure for the future Internet of Healthcare in order to manage the data in the form of genuine human avatars.”

The ultimate aim is to develop an entire platform around the patients and their virtual twins.  This will give researchers and care providers with deep data to work with.  It will allow them to connect genomic and biological data, whilst also taking into account behavioral and environmental data.  The project will collect this via a range of technologies, including portable sensors and medical imaging.

Smarter research

The team hope that the data will allow testing to be done virtually and therefore reduce the need for things such as animal testing.  Alongside the virtual avatars will be ‘organ-on-chip’ technologies that will transfer cells onto microchips to allow for close observation to occur.  For instance, it could allow for medicines to be tested to spot any potential side-effects or to be personalized for individual patients.

Suffice to say, the project is still at a very early stage, and needs to do a lot of work before this vision is realized, not least in protecting the data that is collected.  It’s a challenge the team are tackling head on however.

“Health EU will be a kind of Netflix for genomic and sensory data! At the end of the day, however, it will always be up to patients to decide what they want doctors to see, and which doctors they want to see it,” they say.

Visit www.health-eu.eu to find out more about the project.

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