What has been common in other sectors for many years is becoming more and more of a problem in Healthcare: simulation and modeling in the virtual world. The use of the so-called “virtual twins” allows obtaining valuable information for the advancement of medicine, research and patient care.
Improving healthcare with virtual worlds
The use of 3D modeling and simulation to develop and test new products has already proven its worth in many industries. In the automotive industry, for example, physical crash tests are rarely carried out, as they are now largely carried out in a virtual environment. In medicine, however, it is still common to work with 2D images that do not offer a complete view of the patient’s situation. As the data is already available in digital format, the transformation to 3D will allow the application of a technology that is already working in other industries: virtual twins. This approach – that is, the digital mapping of real objects and processes – allows, for example, to virtually analyze parts of the body, individual organs or the entire human body. Furthermore, by training the models with data from real patients, results can be simulated under the same conditions as the real counterpart. One medical discipline that can particularly benefit from the use of virtual twins is cardiology. In this context, the World Health Organization affirms that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. Modern methods of treatment and prevention are important pillars for improving patient care. To adapt the technology of the virtual twins to the human body, the Living Heart project (the first realistic 3D simulation of a full beating heart, using a software solution) was launched.
An important contribution for research, health centers and industry
Science and research have dealt with the complex conditions of the human heart for decades, something that contributes significantly to the success of the Living Heart Project. For example, the Institute of Cardiovascular Medicine has spent years researching to better understand the human heart. Of special interest is the interaction with other organs, drugs and methods of treatment. Researchers are making a valuable contribution to being able to virtually map the entire heart. Despite advances, many questions remain: (Congenital) heart defects, especially complex ones, and their behavior in interaction with medical devices and potential replacement tissues continue to require intensive investigation.
Companies in the medtech industry already use modeling during the development phase. Through simulations they can test new applications and devices directly on the living heart model. Results obtained in virtual test labs reduce costly and time consuming prototyping and animal testing. Unlike animal models, the virtual heart can incorporate clinical data to more accurately represent a human heart over time as it is used. This allows for a faster development and approval process, helping to speed the time to market for new medical devices.
Already used in practice
Thanks to all the agents involved, the Living Heart Project has already achieved many successes. Personalized cardiac models are already used today to support clinical treatments, for example, in operations to correct severe heart defects in newborns. Here many virtual operations can be performed under the guidance of the doctor to determine the best approach. Medical students and hospital staff, and even patients, also benefit from Living Heart: for example, the virtual twin of the heart can be used in healthcare education and training to train surgical procedures around the world. virtual. Furthermore, development cycles and test suites can be accelerated and optimized thanks to simulation. For example, it is possible to better adapt artificial heart valves to the disease conditions of groups or individual patients with the help of the virtual heart. In this way, many of the physical tests on animals or models made in laboratories are no longer necessary.
Next step: virtual human body
What is being researched today may contribute to a new level of patient care and drug development or medical technology in the future. Work is already underway on other organs, such as the Living Lung and the Living Brain. The Living Brain, for example, is currently used to investigate neuronal disorders such as epilepsy. Also, in this case, brain activities can be simulated from individual patient data, helping to understand this disease, predict seizures, or classify seizure types.
The virtual models of these complex organs are already so advanced that it is already possible to think a step further: to combine the different individual models and thus simulate the entire human body. This use of the virtual twin paves the way for further progress in the development of personalized medicine. Each patient thus has the opportunity to receive exactly the treatment that is adapted to his body, his genes and his metabolism.
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