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, Europes 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
|Contact: Blanca Rodriguez|
European Science Foundation