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Researchers create a ‘digital twin’ of the human heart

28 January 2020

A ‘digital twin’ of the human cardiovascular system will be developed for the first time by researchers at the University of Sheffield.

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The ambitious project aims to transform how doctors diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease, giving patients real-time support to monitor their health alongside care from their doctor.

The ‘Enhancing Cardiac Care Through Extensive Sensing’ (ECHOES) project will bring together international academic and industrial partners, to develop accessible wearable technology that can be used to capture the experiences, symptoms and cardiovascular data of an individual during their daily life.

The University of Sheffield is a major partner in the research consortium of experts in cardiovascular medicine, science, engineering and computer science, that will develop this next generation health technology.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques will analyse the data alongside genetic and healthcare data, creating a digital twin of a patient’s heart to transform the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of heart and circulatory diseases; leading to better patient outcomes and more effective treatment.

ECHOES was announced as one of the four shortlisted international research projects competing for a single £30 million funding award from the British Heart Foundation’s Big Beat Challenge; a global initiative to galvanise researchers and inspire the development of transformational solutions to tackle the world’s biggest killer.

ECHOES was chosen as a finalist due to its ‘radical’ approach to cardiovascular research and the clear benefit it could bring to patients.

Professor Tim Chico from the University of Sheffield is the UK co-ordinator of the ECHOES consortium. He said: “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) often suffers from low rates of first-time diagnosis, resulting in repeated hospital tests, appointments and delays to getting patients on the right treatment pathway.

“A digital twin that works in real-time alongside a patient – changing and aging with them – will provide a wealth of valuable information to assist doctors in diagnosing heart disease as early as possible.

“It may also be able to identify changes that haven’t yet caused any symptoms or signs, providing vital clinical information that can sometimes be missing from a patient’s medical history.

“Using pioneering technology and techniques we can view the cardiovascular system much like an engineer would a manufacturing system; to analyse and manage the conditions that will allow it to function at optimum levels for the patient for as long as possible.”

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The Big Beat Challenge embodies our ambition to turbo-charge progress and could lead to its own ‘man on the moon’ moment for heart and circulatory diseases, which remain the number one cause of death worldwide.

“This is high-risk, high-reward research. We whole-heartedly believe in the transformational potential of the Big Beat Challenge to save and improve lives, both here in the UK and around the world. It represents the single biggest investment in pioneering science in the BHF’s 60-year history. In an ideal world, we’d like to fund all four as each one has the chance to make a monumental impact.”

Professor of Translational Cardiopulmonary Science from the University of Sheffield, Allan Lawrie, will also be working with the ECHOES team. He added: “In Sheffield we have a long history of innovation within cardiac research, contributing to many breakthroughs and ‘firsts’ in treatment for a number of different cardiac conditions.

“ECHOES and the Big Beat Challenge is a once in a lifetime opportunity to collaborate with our international partners to keep people healthier for longer, and effectively treat what remains one of the world's leading causes of death.”

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