Digital twins of patients help in their treatment

In a laboratory in the Italian capital of Rome, Marco Evangelos Biancolini and his team examine patients to assess the effectiveness of various surgical procedures.

But real people do not fall under the scalpel - their digital counterparts are projected on a computer screen, each of them reflecting the individual biochemical composition of the person. And it could open the door to medicine's next frontier: personalized healthcare.

Doubles of patients

By testing methods and drugs on "digital doppelgangers," medical staff can determine the best treatment options for patients themselves. In Biancolini's case, his team studied aneurysms, which are dilations of blood vessels.

"We definitely don't want to do trial and error on the patient, but with a digital twin we can try the operation many times," explained Biancolini, associate professor of machine design at the University of Rome.

He leads a research project that received EU funding to train early-stage researchers in the potentially wide range of applications of digital twins for the treatment and prevention of aneurysms. These problems can be present in people from birth or result from conditions including high blood pressure, fatty plaques and trauma.

25 partners from Italy, France, Greece, Norway and Switzerland participate in the MeDiTATe project.

Fatal emaciation

Aneurysms occur in around 3% of the world's population, with many people not even knowing they have the condition until it is too late.

When an aneurysm ruptures, the consequences are serious. Up to 35% of people who suffer a ruptured aneurysm die, and only a third are able to return to a normal life afterwards.

With such a potentially debilitating condition that can occur anytime and anywhere in the body's circulatory system, ways to save more lives are being sought.

Digital twins can improve the detection of early warning signs in real patients, which will allow for faster preventive measures.

MeDiTATe researchers hope to increase the percentage of people who stay alive, as well as improve early detection and prevention.

If the patient is diagnosed with or suspected of having an aneurysm, a digital twin can be created based on the person's physiology. Medical professionals can then carry out tests to offer individualized treatment.

Because collecting data from a person's own body is difficult without invasive procedures, the researchers also 3D print copies of patients to collect the information needed for the digital twins to be as complete as possible.

"Combining the patient, replica and digital twin completes the cycle," Biancolini said.

Easy to use

Although digital twins are already used for scientific research, MeDiTATe aims to facilitate their use by medical professionals.

The team works with hospitals and gathers input from healthcare workers. The goal is to understand what they need in a digital twin to be able to make a conclusion about a patient's aneurysm.

It aims to make digital twins for treating aneurysms commercially viable, and members of the MeDiTATe consortium have already filed several patents. | BGNES