DISCIPULUS – Digital Patient Roadmap
Welcome to the website of the DISCIPULUS project, an undertaking established by the European Commission in October 2011 to set up a roadmap for the “digital patient”. The digital patient is a known phrase in popular culture today, but what do we at DISCIPULUS mean by the term, ‘digital’ patient?
Let’s start with a definition…
The Digital Patient is an envisaged super-sophisticated computer program that will be capable of generating a virtual living version of yourself. When this is achieved, it will be possible to run ‘simulations’ of health and disease processes on the virtual or ‘digital’ you, and use the results to make predictions about your real health. It will also be possible to determine the best treatment specifically for you. This is termed ‘personalised medicine’, and is intended to be the future of healthcare. A more formal definition can be found here.
So how will the Digital Patient work in Practice?
The easiest place to visualise this is in a doctor’s clinic as shown in Figure 1 and 2. If fully realised as intended, the doctor’s (or hospital’s or health authority in which the hospital is based) computer system will have a complete 3D CGI avatar of a generic virtual physiological human, complete with virtual internal organs. A patient comes in to see the doctor and goes under a 3D scanner. The scanner takes precise measurements of the patient’s anatomy and these are fed into the digital patient computer program. The program uses this information and transforms the virtual physiological human or “VPH” into the visiting patient so that the avatar looks like the patient. The VPH digital patient program will also be able to take the specific patient’s internal organ radiology scans and use the data in those scans to modify the avatar’s internal organs to that of the patient’s. In addition, graphical representations of the patient’s ‘vitals’ such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, and so on, will also be produced. From that point onwards, the doctor will be able to simulate disease processes to see how they will progress in the patient or how s/he will respond to treatment. Simulations will also be possible at the atomic/molecular and cellular levels, where the doctor may want to know how inflammatory or tumour markers will behave, in this case, the VPH digital patient program takes the information from the patient’s biopsies containing proteins, DNA, cells, and so on. DNA information allows the possibility of studying mutations a cancer patient might have and undertaking subatomic level simulations to see how radiotherapy might affect it. In other words, multilevel modelling of a patient will be possible.
The digital patient will however be more than just an avatar, it is planned that it will also be a hub of imaging and information all blended on to one platform as the following video demonstrates:
Figure 2: Animation Illustrating Planned Capabilities of the Digital Patient.
To look into the integration aspect of the Digital Patient, the European Commission has set up a number of programs such as the Virtual Physiological Human Network of Excellence (VPHNoE), visit www.vph.noe.eu.