Crystal ball: How will computational medicine change the way heart disease is diagnosed and treated in the next five years?

Winter 2007

Rai Winslow

Rai Winslow, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Computational Medicine:

“Research in the Institute for Computational Medicine (ICM) is going to have a significant impact on reducing mortality in heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death—the leading cause of mortality in the Western world.

“Over the past decade, basic biological research has been transformed by technologies that allow us to collect and process massive amounts of medical and biological data. For example, we can now acquire gene sequences, measure the genes and proteins expressed in cells and tissues, map protein-protein interactions, and image properties of cells, tissue, and organs under a wide range of conditions.

“We can then use this data to conduct clinical studies and share information on a scale never before possible—studies that involve large, carefully selected cohorts of patients who share a specific disease diagnosis, such as heart disease. Analyzing data from each patient, we’ll be able to find clues as to the underlying causes of their disease and identify biomarkers that can indicate an illness in its earliest stages. Ultimately, it means we’ll be able to “personalize” medicine, giving doctors the tools they need to prescribe prevention and treatment targeted to an individual’s unique biological and genetic makeup.

“This isn’t ‘pie in the sky’ stuff. At the ICM, we’re creating an infrastructure that will allow us to develop and share cardiovascular data, algorithms, data analysis software, and experimentally based computational models of the heart that relate molecular processes to whole heart function. The ultimate goal: the development of new drug and stem cell therapies that we hope will greatly improve the treatment of heart disease and reduce sudden cardiac death.

“Although we’re focusing on heart disease, computational medicine holds the key to transforming the treatment and prevention of just about every disease.”