05 January 2021

Scientific American: “2020’s Top 10 Tech Innovations”

[00:09:46] Mariette DiChristina: [00:09:46] So first we’ve been talking about how do we understand the virus? You know, with the whole genome synthesis and how do we maybe track things with digital medicine? Uh, another item on the list is virtual patients. Um, you know, we’ve talked about digital medicine. So how about digital patients? The idea here, you know, and as we are all watching with baited breath around the globe, as they’ve been testing the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines, Is that if you could replace those real humans with virtual humans and by this, I mean really calculations and a computer, uh, at some stages of those trials, you could identify problems in vaccines, potentially faster and more safely, and also cut the cost of development because it’s very expensive to work, you know, with these precious humans that we need to protect. This is from a field called in silico medicine, the testing of drugs and treatments on virtual or computer models of organs, like the organs in our body, the way they do that, uh, is you know, that you start by feeding data from real human organs and they take those readings and feed them into complex mathematical models of how these mechanisms govern the organs that we have in our bodies and these algorithms running on powerful computers do equations that help us understand what’s going on.

[00:11:14] Robin Pomeroy: [00:11:14] So that’s our third innovation virtual patients on whom we can test medicines or other procedures.

Mariette DiChristina, Bernard S. Meyerson, Jeffery DelViscio, Robin Pomeroy

Interesting podcast about the emerging technologies of 2020 – focused on health and medicine, naturally. If you’re genuinely concerned about the speed of vaccine development, testing candidates on digital patients should be a superior approach. Just as Waymo is simulating millions of road miles to virtually train self-driving cars, medical labs would be able to simulate millions of virtual patients to test their reactions to potential vaccines or medicines, and quickly adjust the substances according to the results.

Scientific American and the World Economic Forum sifted through more than 75 nominations for the most innovative and potentially game-changing technologies in 2020

As with any simulation, the underlying assumptions need to be checked very carefully to prevent bias and skewed results. I have to assume a faithful model of the biochemical interactions in a human body is much more complex than the virtual environment of a road, and therefore much more complicated to build and calibrate to match real-life outcomes. Considering how skeptical people are of the rapid process of developing and approving COVID vaccines, I imagine virtual trials will be met with even more apprehension.

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