Do you know how
and when you
The virtual patient
European researchers are developing a computerised “guardian angel” who will help individuals make the right health decisions – and insurers manage risk
Imagine having a virtual twin who lives in a super-computer and shares your genetic and biological information. This alter-ego grows older with you, updated regularly in line with your lifestyle choices and any health check-ups or medical treatments you may have had. The twin becomes a “guardian angel,” able to warn you of health threats far into the future by running your virtual self through computer modelling.
The EU-linked Future Health initiative is pooling resources from Europe’s leading research institutions to make this scenario a reality in the foreseeable future. Computer models of individuals will combine with machine learning and imaging technologies to give us a roadmap for better, healthier living. The implications for the insurance industry are significant, potentially yielding powerful methods to manage risk and help people plan their future.
The virtual patient will revolutionise healthcare by allowing researchers to develop and test new drugs based on computer-based clinical trials. Future Health coordinator Hans Lehrach, director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, likens the concept to putting new car models through thousands of virtual crash tests. “You don’t want to risk people and money if you can first find out on a computer,” he says. “We now have the technology to apply this strategy in medicine".
The technology is expected to usher in an era of personalised medical care, with strategies based on “a detailed computer model of our individual biology,” according to the Future Health mission statement. Our virtual twin will “help to guard against incompatibilities between us and the drugs we take, the foods we eat and even the exercises we do”.