The tools

The Physiome Project's in silico models are based on and validated against solid experimental data. Much of the 'input' data is already available from many decades of bio-medical research. More will follow and, with the development of new experimental tools and technologies, the insight into sub-cellular, genetic and molecular levels of biological activity is becoming increasingly detailed. Virtual biological systems will be produced by describing in great detail the constituent parts and their interrelation according to the laws of conservation of energy, mass, and momentum.

Such models can be used to perform in silico experiments, for example by monitoring the response of a system or its components to a defined intervention. Model 'output' - predictions of biological behaviour - is then validated against in vitro or in vivo data from the real world.

A confirmation of the modelling-derived predictions would allow the performance of new in silico experiments, either with a higher degree of confidence or at a higher level of functional integration. Rejection of model output would help to pinpoint where the model needs refinement, either by providing new input data, or by direct model improvement. Subsequently, the in silico experiment could be repeated with a higher degree of confidence, until the model satisfactorily reflects the tested aspect of reality.

This is a steady iterative process between the virtual organ and the real thing. Its prime objectives are the development of our understanding of a biological system like the heart, and the improvement of its in silico description. Through this multiple iteration, virtual organ models mature towards a tool that can be used with a high degree of confidence for research, development or clinical applications by scientists and doctors who do not need to be specialists in model development or validation.

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