VPH Institute

Project Interview: The Virtual Physiological Human Institute for Integrative Biomedical Research (VPHi)

The Virtual Physiological Human Institute for Integrative Biomedical Research (VPHi) is a non-profit organisation. It was incorporated on May 16 2011 and is entirely dependent on income from membership subscriptions.

What are general and long term goals of the project?
The VPH Institute is the international non-profit organisation that represents the new research domain referred to as the Virtual Physiological Human, where data from imaging, sensing, laboratory and clinical observation are used to build patient-specific computer models to support clinical decision making on diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. The mission of the VPH Institute is to ensure that the VPH technology is fully realised, universally adopted, and effectively used both in research and clinic. To achieve this objective the VPH institute is working to:

  • Ensure that VPH-related research receives all over the world an adequate level of funding;
  • Ensure that this funded research contributes with a high degree of synergy to the realisation of the VPH.

In the next ten years the priority is to make sure that the VPH technology is:

  • Universally adopted;
  • Deployed into research and clinical settings so as to produce the highest possible benefits.

Please state a few more specific objectives of the project.
The VPHi is currently going through the next stage of its evolution, where specific goals and objectives will be defined by the Board, but amongst those things under consideration are the following:
1) Build on existing successes in promoting modelling and simulation activities at the political level on behalf of the research community
2) Establish a broad community of practice to share knowledge, experience and to collaborate, as well as a point of contact for the community acting rather like a “trade association”
3) Establish a working partnership with industries directly engaged in the application of modelling and simulation to healthcare product discovery, design and development, as well as others providing services to support those approaches
4) Offer support services where appropriate and feasible to assist in the preparation and integration of research proposals

Describe the methodology, approach and technologies used.
The Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) is a methodological and technological framework that, once established, will enable collaborative investigation of the human body as a single complex system. The collective framework will make it possible to share resources and observations formed by institutions and organisations creating disparate, but integrated computer models of the mechanical, physical and biochemical functions of a living human body. The framework aims to be descriptive, integrative and predictive:

  • Descriptive: The framework should allow observations made in laboratories, hospitals and the field, at a variety of locations situated anywhere in the world, to be collected, catalogued, organized, shared and combined in any possible way.
  • Integrative: The framework should enable experts to analyse these observations collaboratively and develop systemic hypotheses that involve the knowledge of multiple scientific disciplines.
  • Predictive: The framework should make it possible to interconnect predictive models defined at different scales, with multiple methods and varying levels of detail, into systemic networks that solidify those systemic hypotheses; it should also make it possible to verify their validity by comparison with other clinical or laboratory observations.

The framework is formed by large collections of anatomical, physiological, and pathological data stored in digital format, by predictive simulations developed from these collections, and by services intended to support researchers in the creation and maintenance of these models, as well as in the creation of end-user technologies to be used in the clinical practice. Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) models aim to integrate physiological processes across different length and time scales (multi-scale modelling). These models enable the combination of patient-specific data with population-based representations. The objective is to develop a systemic approach which avoids a reductionist approach and seeks not to subdivide biological systems in any particular way by dimensional scale (body, organ, tissue, cells, molecules), by scientific discipline (biology, physiology, biophysics, biochemistry, molecular biology, bioengineering) or anatomical sub-system (cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, etc.).

How is the project progressing, any results you wish to highlight?
Since its incorporation back in 2011, the Institute has been very active at the European level in advocating a greater focus on the application of VPH approaches in research and health policy, and it has had a number of successes in influencing opinion and decisions in the European Parliament and Commission. In January 2014, the European Parliament in an overwhelming majority, voted in favour of policy that specifically recognised the VPH Institute as an example of a successful eHealth solution and called for the continued funding of related activities in the next Horizon 2020 work programme, and it appears in the wording of a number of Horizon 2020 Calls. The VPHi is also a core partner in the CSA project “Avicenna: a strategy for in silico Clinical Trials” and is active in the creation of an industrial alliance that will prototype the recommendations delivered as part of the project.

Martina Contin