Auckland scientists are trying to be the first in the world to develop computer models of individual humans that could achieve hundreds of things from saving lives to allowing people to "try on" clothes online.
- Carrying out virtual operations to predict results of surgery on children with cerebral palsy. Surgeons would lengthen or shorten muscles on computer models to simulate the child’s gait to test the likely success of surgery.
- Testing drug toxicity using computers.
- Motivating people to reduce obesity by showing simulations of how they’d look given lifestyle choices such as eating fast food.
The long-term aim is to incorporate cells, tissues and organs in computer models to help with medical diagnosis, surgical planning, design of body implants and ultimately drug discovery, said the institute’s director and head of the physiome project Peter Hunter, who is also director of computational physiology at Oxford University.
"If you can get this notion of being able to make these models customizable to an individual, and then to have quite a lot of information specifically to that individual, that will make them very important long- term for disease tracking or disease diagnosis."
Scientists are five to 10 years away from testing drugs on computer models of the heart — which could reduce some of the need for animal and human drugs testing, and cut the cost and time involved in developing drugs, he said. Getting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a new drug now costs about $1 billion and can take 12 years.
Hunter says this could also prevent disasters such as Merck’s discovery in 2004 that people taking its arthritis drug Vioxx had a higher rate of heart attacks and strokes than those on a placebo.