Testing prosthetic limbs in a virtual world: Personal avatars to revolutionise medicine

21 February 2013

Revolutionary digital modelling of patients will allow personalised prosthetics to be designed and tested in a completely virtual environment, according to research published in a special issue of Interface Focus today.

The new software platform adopts computer-aided approaches with the goal of replacing the current development process, mainly handmade, with a virtual one.

In lower limb prostheses, the prosthetic socket is the main critical component and is currently designed and manufactured almost completely in a manual way, deeply relying on the experience and skills of prosthetics. In addition, the patient has to play a key role in the development process because both the standard and custom-fit components are selected and designed accordingly to his/her health conditions and anatomy. Digital modelling of the patient’s characteristics allows this process to be completed in a virtual world.

Authors Caterina Rizzi and Giorgio Colombo said, “Testing prosthesis in a virtual way allows us to lower the psychological impact on the life of the patient, improve quality and reduce costs".

This work is a part of the current research trend of Computational Biomedicine, which applies modelling and simulation to human health.

The Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) is a wider, international initiative in this burgeoning field; “The ultimate aim of the VPH initiative is the development of virtual human beings, or avatars, based on the genetic and physiological make-up of individual patients. Ultimately these may allow one to conduct all clinical trials in silico.” Professor Peter Coveney, the principal editor of this issue, added, “Computational biomedicine is now on the verge of radically revolutionising many aspects of basic and clinical medicine, but also in the longer term it will take us well beyond something which is only of concern to patients - it will allow all of us to take a more direct involvement in our own healthcare and lifestyle choices.”

The papers collected in this special issue of Interface Focus reflect some of the best research presented at the second of two VPH conferences, held in September 2012.  This issue is available free of charge for the next six weeks.

Some of the VPH projects presented in this issue include; the development of a multi-scale model of a human ventricle for testing cardiovascular drugs, simulation model of a malignant tumours’ growth and response to treatment, and improving the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, currently only possible posthumously.

Watch Peter Coveney and Peter Hunter on the Royal Society publishing video podcast.

Listen to Peter Coveney on the Today Programme (item at 00.54).