Simulating the human condition in a digital age: Virtual Physiological Human 2014

VPH 2014Long before the availability of computers and technology, physiologists were using mathematical modelling to describe complex systems using physical and mathematical principles. Combining knowledge of physics with experimental observation, pioneering physiologists such as Poiseuille, Fick and Krogh were able to describe the physiological complexities of blood flow that were only confirmed through direct measurement decades after their initial description. As the digital age progresses and available computational power continues to increase, we now move towards a more detailed modelling approach aimed at using existing experimental data gathered from all around the world from both populations and individual patients to create a virtual representation of the human body. This concept, known as The Virtual Physiological Human, aims to lead to new, more predictive clinical technologies that allow for personalized medicine to be readily available. The Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) Conference 2014 took place in Trondheim between 9th and 12th Sept. Hosted at the Clarion Hotel by NTNU and organized by Prof. Stig Omholt, the conference brought together computational biologists working within the VPH framework with experimental biologists presenting new and exciting data which challenges existing models of the human body. This was an important meeting for members of CERG, as we understand how important exercise is in influencing many aspects of human physiology. One session in particular, chaired by Dr. Trine Karlsen focused on exercise physiology, where members of CERG discussed their current research with computational biologists working with computer simulations of exercising humans. The scope of disciplines was vast, ranging from modelling exercise training in patients with diabetes, to energy metabolism and heat production in elite cyclists.

What became clear from this conference is the need for modelers to work with more reliable data from large population studies, such as the “Generation 100” study presented at VPH by CERG researcher Nina Zisko. Generation 100 looks at the effect of long-term exercise training on a large elderly population in Trondheim. The data generated from this study and others like it will be invaluable in forming the backbone of future computer simulations of the aging human. The power of biological models becomes exponentially greater, but so too does our understanding of the depth of complexity that must be modelled. Prof. Denis Noble from the University of Oxford who gave the opening keynote speech, best describes the challenges faced. “Just computing the interactions between the estimated 25,000 genes gives super-astronomical numbers of interactions: around 10 70,000!”. Given this level of complexity, simulating the human body is clearly an enormous task. It is one however, that patients, experimentalists and computational scientists the world over can achieve by working together. Allen Kelly, Post doctor at CERG

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