Computer modelling shows way to better treatment for patients

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COMPUTERISED models of patients are being created by a new research institute in Sheffield, which will then be used to demonstrate the effects of potential treatments on the body.

The Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Modelling (INSIGNEO), a new research institute set up by Sheffield University and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is now developing models of different body parts.

Ultimately, those models will then be built up into a complete digital replica of a patient.

Medical information, from simple details such as age and weight to more complex data taken from scans and X-rays, will be fed into the models to provide an overall picture of an individual patient’s condition, against which different treatments can then be tested.

Speaking at a Press conference to launch UK National Science and Engineering Week, which began yesterday, director of INSIGNEO Professor Alejandro Frangi, from Sheffield University, said: “By developing models of complete organ systems, such as the cardiovascular system, we can help clinicians predict whether a visible narrowing in a coronary artery, for example, is significant enough to cause constriction of blood supply, and whether the patient would benefit from having a stent fitted or not.

“Although it is difficult to make these kinds of predictions on visual appearance alone, clinicians are often forced to do so, and quite frequently get it wrong.

“We prefer to consider not just the measurement of the narrowing, but to put it in context.

“Our models will enable doctors to handle illnesses in a more holistic way.”

Models that are already “well advanced” include one of the heart’s aortic valve which, in cases of heart failure, will help doctors decide when a valve will need repair. That model is personalised using data on heart rate and blood flow.

Another model which is already being piloted with patients is one of a cerebral aneurysm, which helps doctors predict the likelihood of rupture, when treatment is necessary and what sort of treatment will work best.

A musculo-skeletal model to help predict likelihood of bone fracture in elderly patients is also at an advanced stage. This is based on both bone density data from scans and gait analysis.

INSIGNEO will see Sheffield University researchers working alongside clinicians from the city’s NHS Foundation Trust. Consultant clinical scientist and scientific director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Professor Wendy Tindale, said: “There’s a desperate need to find new technologies that can help us improve the treatments we provide to patients, but too often developments by academics never cross over into clinical practice. What is different about INSIGNEO is the direct link between engineers, computer scientists, clinical researchers and practising clinicians. This ensures the models we develop will be relevant to, and therefore will be used in, the clinic.”