The Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine at the University of Sheffield is developing an ‘in silico’ (computer simulated) model of the human body that will enable simulation of the effects of drugs and treatments on the human body.

The Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) project will enable collaborative investigation of the human body as a single complex system using integrated computer models of the mechanical, physical and biochemical functions of a living human body.

It is hoped that the project will lead to a better healthcare system by offering personalised care solutions, a more holistic approach to medicine and a preventative approach to the treatment of disease.

Over a period of time, it may lead to treatment that sees the body as a single multi organ system rather than as a collection of individual organs.

The Institute, which was founded a year ago at the University of Sheffield, is currently demonstrating the first phase of technology that will lead to the creation of a virtual human body.

The primary objective of the project is to create a computer simulated replica of the human body that will enable the virtual testing of personalised treatments.

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Once the project is completed, VPH, which resembles a software-based laboratory for experimentation and treatment, is predicted to transform the economics and practicalities of modern medical treatment and medical research.

The researchers will analyse observations made in laboratories, hospitals and the field anywhere in the world to develop systemic hypotheses, leveraging knowledge across multiple scientific disciplines.

The VPH programme is backed by European Commission (EC) funding. Since 2007, around €220m of EC funding has been targeted at collaborative in silico projects across Europe.

At a conference to be held today in Sheffield the institute will feature a series of talks and demonstrations that chart progress to date, including a presentation on imaging and computational modelling of pulmonary disease; a look at the emerging potential of the 21st century laboratory; and a presentation on VIRTUheart, which is expected to transform the assessment and management of coronary artery disease.

Additionally, the institute will also include a presentation on how the VPH will improve the prediction of fracture risk; and a presentation on virtual, physiological and computational neuromuscular models for the predictive treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

"What we’re working on here will be vital to the future of healthcare."

On display at the showcase will be an array of sophisticated 3D simulations of human physiology. There will also be updates from scientists and clinicians at the Institute.

Dr Keith McCormack, who leads business development at the institute, said: "What we’re working on here will be vital to the future of healthcare.

"Pressures are mounting on health and treatment resources worldwide. Candidly, without in silico medicine, organisations like the NHS will be unable to cope with demand."

The Insigneo is a collaborative initiative between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

It is a multi-disciplinary institute with a membership of more than 120 academics and clinicians working together to develop computer simulations of the human body and its disease processes.

Image: When complete the virtual human will be the most sophisticated application of computing technology in healthcare. Photo courtesy of The University of Sheffield.