Virtual models tackle EU healthcare challenges
Healthcare costs across Europe are increasing, with an ageing population and the burden of treating chronic diseases consuming valuable resources. EU-funded researchers have used Model-Based Therapeutics (MBT) - a process whereby computer models of the human body, patient data and automation are combined - to create new treatments for common medical problems that improve patient well-being and save money.
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Healthcare costs in Europe can be as high as 10 % of GDP and are increasing at 7 to 11 % every year. To tackle this challenge, the ETIME project has used detailed computer models of the human body, as well as clinical data and the power of virtual automation, to develop new treatments for three clinically pressing areas. These include the management of blood sugar levels; providing safer care for those who need artificial breathing support and more accurate circulatory information in critically ill patients.
The outcomes of the project have led to new healthcare approaches that are currently being tested and introduced across Europe and New Zealand.
“MBT uses advancements in modern technology to allow us to develop and test new approaches to care,” says project coordinator Balázs Benyó of Hungary’s Budapest University of Technology and Economics. “As well as saving health systems money, new approaches to treatment that we have developed through MBT will be more efficient and effective improving patient outcomes and patient lives.”
Creating solutions, changing lives
The ETIME project used the wealth of patient data that is generated in healthcare environments, processing and applying it to proprietary models that provide clinicians with new, specialist insights that support them to make better and more informed decisions.
“Healthcare, especially intensive care, is a data-rich environment, with several medical devices collecting data from each patient,” says Benyó. “It provided us with the ideal space where we can apply engineering approaches to help understand and improve physiological processes.”
The world’s first-ever mechanical ventilation model, developed by ETIME, provides a virtual window into the lung, enabling clinicians to provide effective support for patients who are struggling to breathe. The system improves effectiveness of the intervention and reduces the risk of any unwanted damage to healthy parts of the lung. To test its efficacy, it is currently being trialled in hospitals in the EU and the project’s strategic partners in New Zealand.
Modelling techniques have also helped the ETIME team build a clinically validated and accurate protocol for managing the glycaemic profile of a patient in intensive care.
Using available data sources, clinicians working with the system can now more accurately monitor and manage the blood sugar level of each patient, reducing costs through the avoidance of adverse events and potentially saving lives. The new protocol is already in regular use in several New Zealand and Hungarian hospitals.
The final focus of the project was on developing a support tool for clinicians to monitor the flow of blood around the body of critically ill patients, helping them to spot any emerging problems or blockages. Using sensors and catheters to provide data, the current model has successfully been tested on animals, with human tests planned in hospitals in the EU and New Zealand.
As well as generating significant research and insight, ETIME which received funding through the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme has been a successful collaboration between researchers in the EU and New Zealand, facilitating a positive exchange of knowledge and skills. The resulting intellectual property has been licensed to businesses across Europe.