Sunday Times

Prepare to meet your digital twin

- Arthur Goldstuck ✼ Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of

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

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