Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The construction of heart modelling leads path to new therapies

Heart disease is still a major killer, especially in the western world, but new therapies based on stem cells and other techniques could now be imminent. Progress is being held back however by the difficulty testing new therapies on human heart tissue, with animal models being only of limited value owing to differences in structure and activity.

The only solution in the absence of real human models is to create computerised "in-silico" models that simulate the real heart and enable possible drugs and therapies to be tested without risk to people. Although this is still some way off becoming a reality, substantial progress has been made, and the next steps were plotted at a major workshop held recently by the European Science Foundation (ESF).

The workshop highlighted how recent progress in imaging technologies was helping heart modellers overcome the big dilemma they have faced up till now - actually proving that the models really are an accurate representation of the real human heart. This has been the big "catch 22" of heart modelling, that in order to create a realistic model, you need accurate and extensive data from real hearts for calibration.

"Validation of the models is very important, and was raised at the workshop," said Blanca Rodriguez, scientific coordinator of the ESF workshop, and senior cardiac researcher at Oxford University, Europe's leading centre for cardiac modelling. "One of the problems has been that it is much easier to get experimental data from animals than humans."

Such animal data can help calibrate some aspects of the models, but only data from human hearts can fine tune them to the point at which they can actually make useful predictions and test therapies. Fortunately such data is now becoming available as a result of dramatic progress in imaging techniques that can observe cardiac activity externally without need for invasive probes. "We are now getting data at very high resolutions, and that allows us to model things in more detail, with greatly improved anatomy and structure," said Rodriguez. This in turn requires access to greater computational power and more sophisticated software, both of which are available at Oxford.

The models in turn are allowing researchers to study disease and understand what can go wrong, which is the first step towards developing cures. One of the most important diseases being modelled is myocardial ischaemia, which is the loss of blood supply to part of the heart muscle, leading ultimately to failure and potentially death if untreated.

Typically victims of heart failure never fully recover their former health and vigour, because part of the heart muscle has been permanently lost. However stem cell therapy holds the promise of being able to regenerate heart muscle destroyed by disease, but this will require careful testing to eliminate possibly dangerous side effects, such as cancer and disruption of normal heart rhythms, leading to arrhythmia, or irregular heart beats. Here again the heart models could play a vital role. "They could be used to model stem cells' behaviour, and see how they are incorporated into the heart," said Rodriguez.

The ESF workshop also had another dimension - to kick start a Europe-wide effort to catch up with the US in this vital field. Oxford was once the world leader, for remarkably the first cardiac model was developed almost half a century ago in 1961 by Dennis Noble, who although now officially retired is still assisting Rodriguez and colleagues today. Noble's original model was of just of a single heart cell. But since the late 1990s, the models have been extended to the whole organ, incorporating multiple cell types.

The workshop identified three key issues that had to be addressed, according to Rodriguez. The first one was to improve the links within Europe's scattered heart modelling community. The second two recommendations, less specific to Europe, were to create a standard and robust software infrastructure for sharing heart models and associated data, and to define exactly how to calibrate the models more effectively from experimental data.

The next step is to act on these recommendations, but Rodriguez is now confident that Europe is well placed to regain its early momentum in this vital field of medical research.

The ESF Exploratory Workshop on European Heart Modelling and Supporting Technology was held in Oxford, United Kingdom, in May 2007. The Exploratory Workshop titled Exploring Symbolic Value Creation In Organizations was held on 6-9 September 2007 in Milano, Italy. Each year, ESF supports approximately 50 Exploratory Workshops across all scientific domains. These small, interactive group sessions are aimed at opening up new directions in research to explore new fields with a potential impact on developments in science.

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>