Press Release: The human musculoskeletal system created using computer models will lead to personalised treatment

A computer model of the human musculoskeletal system will be mapped out by researchers at the University of Sheffield following a £6.7 million grant that will lead to personalised treatment for diseases such as osteoporosis, arthritis and back pain, saving money and resulting in better outcomes and faster recovery.

The five year programme will see experts from the University of Sheffield’s INSIGNEO Institute for in silico – meaning via computer simulation – medicine, a joint initiative of the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, create a new modelling framework for the human musculoskeletal system.

The engineering-based model of an individual patient’s musculoskeletal makeup will be able to reduce soaring treatment costs for chronic bone disorders by predicting disease development and enabling better treatment and simultaneously capture processes at a cellular scale right up to the whole body.

The £6.7M Frontier Engineering grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – awarded to the world leading and innovative INSIGNEO Institute – will improve treatments for diseases of the musculoskeletal system.

It is one of five Frontier Engineering projects receiving £25 million in total announced by the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts at the first Global Grand Challenges Summit in London today (Tuesday 12 March 2013).

Professor Damien Lacroix of the INSIGNEO Institute and the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said: “Our work in building accurate computer models of the human body that are tailored to each individual’s anatomy and physiology means that every patient receives treatment personally optimised to their detailed circumstances.

“This leads to improved outcomes, faster recovery and, in almost all cases, lower costs. The new EPSRC-supported research programme is particularly ground-breaking as it integrates our modelling components across the full range of scales using new techniques able to account for currently unobservable and uncertain variables.

“The impact on healthcare could be tremendous: total healthcare expenditure in the UK has doubled from 2000-2010 to a staggering 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” added Professor Lacroix .

The engineering basis for the Institute’s work means that techniques developed for one disease area can usually be migrated to other parts of the body, leading to the development of an integrated understanding of the body’s disease mechanisms.

INSIGNEO Director Professor Marco Viceconti said: “The advanced multiscale simulation techniques we are developing in the INSIGNEO Institute are the core technologies for the next major advance in medicine. By applying these most sophisticated engineering methods to the human body’s organs and systems we are uncovering disease mechanisms as never before, and by grounding our work in fundamental engineering principles we are developing a sustainable framework for the complete modelling of physiology.”

The INSIGNEO Institute is a full partnership between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, an arrangement that provides the ideal balance of academic prowess and clinical excellence; developments are firmly rooted in the needs of patients, and outputs can be translated into clinical practice efficiently and quickly.

Sir Andrew Cash, Chief Executive of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, added: “This is probably the most sophisticated application of computing technology in healthcare today and Sheffield has become the UK’s main centre for this advancement in research, clinical diagnosis and care which will ultimately benefit patients across the world.”

Professor Mike Hounslow, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Engineering and Institutional Principal Investigator, said: “INSIGNEO’s multiscale research has widespread application across many areas of our work and I believe this award will transform our activities in the Faculty of Engineering. We will be working particularly closely with our partners in the University’s Faculty of Medicine and in The Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to capitalise on the outcomes for the benefit of patients.”


Notes to editors:

The Insigneo Institute for in silico  Medicine

The Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine is a collaborative initiative between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It is a multi-disciplinary institute involving over 80 academics and clinicians who collaborate to develop computer simulations of the human body and its disease processes that can be used directly in clinical practice to improve diagnosis and treatment. This is probably the most sophisticated application of computing technology in healthcare, and Sheffield has become the UK’s main centre for this work.