Research is growing into computational models that will move medicine beyond what works on the average patient. Imagine having a digital twin that gets ill, and can be experimented on to identify the best possible treatment, without you having to go near a pill or a surgeon’s knife.
According to The Guardian, scientists believe that within five to 10 years, “in silico” trials – in which hundreds of virtual organs are used to assess the safety and efficacy of drugs – could become routine, while patient-specific organ models could be used to personalize treatment and avoid medical complications.
Digital twins are computational models of physical objects or processes, updated using data from their real-world counterparts. Within medicine, this means combining vast amounts of data about the workings of genes, proteins, cells and whole-body systems with patients’ personal data to create virtual models of their organs – and eventually, potentially their entire body.
“If you practice medicine today, a lot of it isn’t very scientific. Often, it is equivalent to driving a car and working out where to go next by looking in the rear-view mirror: you try to figure out how to treat the patient in front of you based on people you’ve seen in the past who had similar conditions,” said Prof. Peter Coveney, the director of the Centre for Computational Science at University College London and co-author of Virtual You.
“What a digital twin is doing is using your data inside a model that represents how your physiology and pathology is working. It is not making decisions about you based on a population that might be completely unrepresentative. It is genuinely personalized,” he added.
The current state of the art model can be found in cardiology. Already, companies are using patient-specific heart models to help design medical devices, while the Barcelona-based start-up ELEM BioTech is offering companies the ability to test drugs and devices on simulated models of human hearts.