SCIENTISTS and doctors in Sheffield are set to launch a research institute which could change the face of modern medicine.
The Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Modelling, a joint project between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, will move in September into a building being constructed on the corner of Broad Lane and Newcastle Street.
Twenty doctors, engineers, computer scientists and other researchers will focus on developing a programme which will create a virtual 3D model of the human body, personalised to each patient. Computer models will allow doctors to test the effect of treatments, drugs and operations on patients before they carry them out for real.
Already medics in Sheffield are using the programme to model small parts of the body, such as the heart, but are aiming to expand the system to model the entire body.
Prof Alejandro Frangi, who will direct the INSIGNEO institute, said: “There is a lot of data about us in the healthcare system but it is fragmented. I think the modelling framework gives us a mechanism – I like to see it as Google Earth, putting all of these different layers of information together.
“By developing models of complete organ systems, such as the cardiovascular system, we can help clinicians predict whether treating a constriction in one coronary artery, for example, might improve or worsen blood supply in other coronary arteries in patients with multiple lesions.”
Prof Wendy Tindale, scientific director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “The vision is that ultimately there will be a complete digital replica of each patient.
“These are very, very sophisticated computational models of a patient. They mean you can start to treat the model, to see what happens if you use treatments in this way or that way, to see how our actions will impact the patients now, and down the line.
“It’s about trying it out in the computer before you try it for real, so you can try it out before you go near a patient with a scalpel.”
The institute has hired three professors from across Europe, each leading experts on medical modelling.
Prof Frangi said: “The idea is to input data such as MRI scans, X-Rays, ECG scans and medical history, and create a computational model to predict disease progression or the interplay between organs and medical intervention. All these sources of data are currently used by physicians but they have to make a mental picture of the disease and the patient. These systems allow us to make that model with computers and personalise it to patients.”
The university has hired a biomechanics expert Prof Marco Viceconti, from Bologna in Italy, and mechanobiology expert Prof Damien Lacroix, from Catalonia in Spain.
They join Prof Tindale, a clinical physicist who works for the teaching hospitals, and Prof Rod Hose and Dr Pat Lawford, who work in the university’s Department of Cardiovascular Science.
Academics have been working on human modelling in Sheffield since the late 1990s, but researchers hope the new institute will provide a new impetus.
Prof Tindale said: “What is brilliant is the way that Sheffield is amassing a strength in this area.”