Prepare to meet your digital twin
Imagine if you could make a digital replica of your body, using sensors to pull in all data available at a given moment, and then project your health into the future — not as in predicting what will happen, but rather in assessing the impact of changes in medication, diet or activity over time.
It could offer a road map for how to treat one’s body better. For those facing medical challenges, it could offer a lifeline into the future.
The concept is close to reality as medicine imports the principle from engineering and information technology. It has its origins decades ago in 3-D models of complex products and systems, but was defined by Nasa in 2010, when it began using the principle to improve physical model simulation of spacecraft.
This allowed it to use a “real-time digital counterpart” of a craft to test and improve performance.
Now it has come to medicine, as Covid-19 researchers use the concept to create personalised health-risk scores and drugtreatment recommendations based on patients’ medical history and genetics.
But it is not as simple as 3-D modelling. At this week’s Dell Technologies World, an annual event held virtually for the second time, a collaboration between Dell and nonprofit open-source research organisation i2b2 tranSMART Foundation was presented as the cutting edge of digital twinning.
A description of the project provided by Dell indicates just how many complicated moving parts go into the process.
“To make this possible and provide the computational, artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced storage capabilities to generate digital twins, Dell Technologies built a data enclave — a secure data storage network — comprised of Dell EMC PowerEdge, PowerStore and PowerScale storage systems, as well as VMware Workspace ONE and Boomi integration services. In the data enclave, researchers gather, store and analyse data scattered across various monitoring systems and electronic health records, and in the future will have the capability to update the digital twins with real-time clinical data collected through ventilator and cardiac monitors.”
Aside from the vast array of technology required, the process faces data privacy challenges in an era when governance often comes before innovation.
As a result, the i2b2 tranSMART community uses “de-identified” patient data, or anonymised information, to produce digital twins that represent categories of people rather than specific individuals. Dell says researchers can then perform millions of individualised treatment simulations on the digital twins to determine the best possible therapy option for patients, based on genetic background and medical history.
“This project is a perfect example of the global research and technology community coming together to support people who are suffering from a condition that is not well understood,” said Jeremy Ford, vice-president of strategic giving and social innovation at Dell Technologies. The very title underlines the fact that this is not yet a commercial initiative, but rather an exploration of how technology can be used to enhance the lives of individuals.
“Working together with the i2b2 tranSMART Foundation, we will apply our expertise and technology to build digital twins, share data, conduct simulations and analyses — using these insights to help understand and better treat patients with long-haul Covid,” said Ford, referring to an estimated 1 in 20 people who are likely to experience long-term symptoms from having Covid-19.
These symptoms range from profound fatigue and brain fog to headaches and shortness of breath, collectively known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC). A big name, and one that is little understood. In particular, little is known about why some continue to be affected after the virus has left the body, and even less about the longterm impacts.
These “Covid long-haulers” are intended to be the first beneficiaries of the project. Initially, 70,000 patients’ tests, simulations and analyses will be shared with the 4CE Consortium, an international coalition of 200-plus hospitals and research centres.
It is expected that up to 2-million digital twins will be created in the next four years.
Process could offer a road map for how to treat one’s body better