Program could help predict effectiveness of treatments

A proposed computer model of every process in the human body could help predict how well treatments will work on individual patients.

Researchers at four UK universities are part of a Europe-wide team hoping to win €1bn (£882m) to develop a program that uses patients’ genome information to make personalised suggestions about what drugs or treatments they should use.

By understanding more about how a drug is likely to affect a specific patient or interact with other medication they are already taking, doctors should be able to prescribe treatment more effectively, speeding up recovery and saving money.

Daniel Jameson of the Manchester Centre for Integrative Systems Biology told The Engineer that the model’s predictions would be made more accurate by feeding it data about each patient it was applied to.

‘The long-term aim is to be able to simulate from the bottom up the interactions at a molecular level all the way up to the cellular level, the organ level and the physiological level,’ he said.

‘This would allow you to test the response of an individual to particular drugs, allow you to predict how lifestyle choices may affect that individual and show how someone may benefit from behaving in one particular way where someone else wouldn’t.’

The 10-year project, called IT Future of Medicine, is one of six competing for EU money under the European Future and Emerging Technologies flagship scheme and has received €1.5m to develop its proposal by April 2012.

Teams from 25 academic institutions and industrial partners, including UCL, Imperial College London and Manchester and Leicester universities, will work together to create the computer model, each tackling different body parts, organs or systems.

‘One of the big initial challenges is the integration of disparate data gathered by different people in different situations on different equipment,’ said Jameson.

‘We also have to address the problem of allowing different mathematical models done at different scales to talk to one another.

‘As it becomes a more useful system and we expand it to bring in data from lots of individuals, [the issue becomes] the manipulation of those vast quantities of data and the sheer quantity of processing power needed to simulate these things in real time.’

The team will first have to define what computer technology they will need to create the model, including specifying how much processing power it will need and any new technologies they will have to develop to support it.