This essay is about the making of the most comprehensive computer model of a human organ to date: the virtual heart. It will beat, 'consume' energy or experience the lack of it, respond to stress or drug administration, grow and age - in short, it will behave like the real thing. Or, let's say, close to. Because the virtual heart may be stopped without harm at any point in time, and dissected, inspected, resurrected, etc. . . . We shall address this in more detail below, together with other enticing aspects of virtual organ development. In particular, we will try to:
• review the need for virtual organs in the context of contemporary biomedical research;
• introduce the ideas behind the 'Physiome Project' - a world-wide research effort, similar to the Genome Project, to describe human biological function using analytical computer models;
• provide insights into some of the more technical aspects of the virtual heart; and finally
• address the utility and benefit of this new tool for biomedical research, drug and device development, and the wider society.
In order to understand the dimensions of the making of the virtual heart - let's stand back, for a minute, and consider the difficulties of studying and describing any unknown complex system.
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