Virtual patients could alter clinical trials – and be easy to recruit

Computer-simulated patients have gotten closer to the real thing in terms of providing accurate models of how human tissues and organs act under certain circumstances. With groups at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute advancing so-called virtual patients for testing medical products, the FDA is taking a close look at the technology as a way to do trials that are difficult to perform in living patients, The Wall Street Journal reports.

For instance, it's challenging to do clinical testing on actual pregnant mothers because of the risks to the mother and fetus, according to the article, but virtual pregnant mother gives researchers an idea of the impact of a medical procedure or treatment on a living patient. The same goes with kids, for which virtual patients could be used to test heart implants. The sophistication of the virtual patients even lets researchers simulate how radiation moves through different types of human tissue.

For most conditions, of course, medical product developers will still need to recruit humans to participate in clinical trials. Yet the FDA's participation in testing the use virtual patients shows that the technology has a shot at speeding the development of certain treatments that are difficult to test in real patients for one reason or another. Medical devices are one clear favorite for use of this technology, as the devices, unlike some drugs, aren't targeting highly complex molecular pathways that are difficult to simulate accurately.

However, the virtual patient inspires science-fiction fantasies. What if someday our knowledge of human biology could enable us to create computer-simulated patients that let us test a targeted cancer drug without having to conduct traditional clinical trials.

-read the WSJ's article

Related Article:
Virtual models emerging to enable personalized cancer care 

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