Health & Medicine

As computer simulations and models grow faster and more accurate, so does our ability to understand and treat disease and injuries.

From drug discovery to surgery, to unraveling the mysteries of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, many advances in medicine would not be possible without the sophisticated modeling, visualization, and data analysis enabled by scientific computation.

A computer model could help confirm a diagnosis of dementia and allow neurologists to predict a patient’s cognitive state at any given point in the future.

“They could tell whether and when the patient will develop speech impediments, memory loss, behavioral peculiarities, and so on,” said Ashish Raj of Cornell University. His model builds on recent evidence that diseased proteins involved in neurodegenerative illness travel along connected neurl fiber tracts, rather thanbeing transmitted by proximity like most diseases. Using the same kinds of calculations applied to the diffusion of gases, Raj was able to correctly predict the patterns of degeneration that result in a number of different forms of dementia. In this image, colors represent the fibers involved in different neuronal tracts.

For many service members, the trauma of losing a leg is compounded by bone growths that make wearing a traditional prosthetic too painful, if not impossible.

At the University of Utah’s Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute, researches are collaborating with biomedical engineers and orthopedic specialists to speed the healing time for implantable prosthetic legs. “Osseointegration” involves attaching a rod to an amputee’s remaining bone as a base for a prosthetic. The technique, already used in Europe, is rare because it takes 18 months for bone to grow into and stabilize the rod. Doctors wondered if electrical stimulation, used to promote healing of bone fractures, could also speed the attachment process. Starting with CT scans, Brad Isaacson of VA Medical Center used SCI Institute software to create individual, 3D models of the residual legs of 11 servicemen: bones, muscles, fat and skin. Researches used the models to best place an electrical stimulation device and to understand how extra-skeletal bone growths affected its use. Once osseointegration is approved in the U.S., patient-specific computer models like these developed at SCI Institute could guide its use.

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