A "Google Earth" style map of the human body could revolutionise the way patients are treated, scientists said today.
A digital replica of a patient would be created using their medical data to give an overall picture of their health. The 3D computer avatar which would then allow doctors to test how different treatments would work on that person's body.
Professor Alejandro Frangi of Sheffield University said: "There is a lot of data about us in the healthcare system, but it is fragmented. I think the modelling framework gives us a mechanism - I like to see it as Google Earth, putting all of these different layers of information together."
One application already being piloted is a model of a cerebral aneurysm which could assist clinicians in predicting how likely rupture would be and if treatment is necessary.
The technological advance could also help predict the likelihood of bone fractures in patients with osteoporosis by producing a musculo-skeletal model from bone density data.
Professor Frangi said: "By developing models of complete organ systems, such as the cardiovascular system, we can help clinicians predict whether treating a constriction in one coronary artery, for example, might improve or worsen blood supply in other coronary arteries in patients with multiple lesions.
"Because it's currently impossible to make these kinds of predictions, clinicians are often forced to deal with one issue at a time in diseases that are in fact multifactorial or systemic.
"Our models will enable doctors to handle illness in a more holistic way."
Julian Gunn, from the department of cardiovascular science at the University of Sheffield, added that the move would see patients' treatment move "from the 19th century to the 22nd century".
The system could be in place in the next 20 years, according to the Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Modelling (known as Insigneo), which has been set up by the University of Sheffield and the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Professor Wendy Tindale, consultant clinical scientist and scientific director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: "There's a desperate need to find new technologies that can help us improve the treatments we provide to patients, but too often developments by academics never cross over into clinical practice.
"What is different about Insigneo is the direct link between engineers, computer scientists, clinical researchers and practising clinicians.
"This ensures the models we develop will be relevant to, and therefore will be used in, the clinic."
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