Digital twin of heart patient can correctly predict outcomes of medical treatment

Researchers from Maastricht University and University Medical Centre Utrecht have shown that a ‘digital twin’ of 45 patients with heart failure can correctly predict the effectiveness of pacemaker treatment. A digital twin is a computer model that processes a variety of data from the clinic to produce an exact simulation of the patient, in this case of the cardiovascular system. According to the researchers, the method paves the way for medical treatments precisely tailored to the individual. The results of the study were published today in the scientific journal Europace.

Digital twin

To simulate the heart of each patient, the scientists used a computer model developed in Maastricht, called CircAdapt. Maastricht researchers have been working on this digital model of the human cardiovascular system for years. It predicts very precisely the consequences of small changes in the functioning of the heart, such as in pumping force or electrical conduction. The model can also help cardiologists to make better diagnoses. In patients with heart failure, a variety of factors often combines to produce a specific clinical picture.

‘This technology not only opens the door to personalised medicine, with customised treatments for heart failure, but also offers a unique platform for animal-free research on cardiovascular disease, and innovative training using virtual patients,’ says Joost Lumens, research leader and professor of computational cardiology at Maastricht University. ‘With these promising results, we now plan to set up prospective studies to bring us a step closer to the actual use of this innovation by cardiologists in their daily clinical practice.’

Medical treatment

In the 45 patients with heart failure in the study, the computer model successfully predicted the effect of pacemaker therapy. In reality, the patients at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht had already undergone such treatment, and this enabled the researchers to establish whether the effects of the treatment as predicted by the digital model had actually occurred in the hearts of the patients. This proved to be the case even if the therapy did not appear to have had the desired effect. The Utrecht cardiologists are therefore very satisfied with the approach.

‘Thanks to the digital twin, we are now able to predict the efficacy – or inefficacy – of pacemaker treatment in patients with heart failure. It also means we can select patients for surgery more accurately,’ says Mathias Meine, cardiologist and professor of cardiac implantable devices in heart failure at Utrecht University. ‘In addition, the computer model allows us to test innovations with ease in the digital lab, so new ideas for heart disease treatments can be clinically applied more quickly.’

This study was funded by the Heart Foundation and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO/VIDI grant), and via Marie Skłodowska-Curie funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme.

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