Innovative network for personalised health care, the EU way

Europeans continue to push the envelope when it comes to developing sophisticated technology that benefits various sectors across regions. A new project funded by the EU is continuing this effort by targeting the development of a massive network of computer programs that could revolutionise health care in Europe and beyond. Developed by the ITFOM (’IT [information technology] future of medicine’) project, which is backed under the ‘Information and communication technologies’ (ICT) Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to the tune of EUR 1.48 million, this network could help save money - and lives.

The ITFOM consortium, headed by the Max Planck Society in Germany, comprises 25 research institutes and industry groups from Europe and abroad. The team will be expanded as work progresses. The ITFOM partners will create ‘virtual patients’ (computational models of individual people) that will help specialists create personalised health systems based on patients’ genetic and physiological make-up.

This will give both doctors and patients significant support; doctors in particular will benefit from such a system because they will have instant and in-depth knowledge of their patients’ health needs and medical history. Not only will this give patients fast diagnoses of what ails them, but it will protect them from life-threatening side effects of wrongly prescribed medication. Another upshot is that less money will be spent on drugs.

The project partners say a number of ICT developments must be performed so as to ensure the success of this medicine. Getting and evaluating patient data quickly is key, as are the dynamic storage and processing of real-time patient data into relevant mathematical models. Bringing to fruition novel systems that can learn, predict and inform is also part of the plan. Doing all this will ensure that health care professionals and patients are given the support they need for good health and treatment.

Under the plan, the ICT technology - computing, storage, networking and modelling technologies - will enable doctors to use a patient’s individual genome to inform every state of disease management, including diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. The model could be adapted to meet individual patient health demands.

Commenting on how computers models will change the way health care is provided, Professor Hans Westerhoff of the United Kingdom’s University of Manchester, an ITFOM partner, says: ‘ITFOM will make general models of human pathways, tissues, diseases and ultimately of the human as a whole. These models will then be used to identify personalised prevention and therapy schedules, and the side effects of drugs. The models will be there to help diagnose a particular problem and provide solutions. Obviously this would need to be done in conjunction with a person’s general practitioner depending on the gravity of the situation. Making personalised medicine a reality will thus require fundamental advances in the computational sciences. It promises to be unique and groundbreaking because people could access their own health model. It is intended to be a large, straightforward system which can also inform treatment regimes. This is the first time that huge IT systems looking at individual care will be combined with genomics and medical needs.’

Professor Norman Paton, the head of Manchester’s School of Computer Science, says ITFOM is making it possible for outcomes in medicine to get the boost they need. ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to bring together advances from these three rapidly developing areas to bring about a paradigm shift in medical practice,’ he comments.

The other ITFOM partners are from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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