Finnish report to outline current status and future of computational medicine

Espoo 13 March 2002The Finnish Center for Scientific Computing (CSC) has published an overview on the current status of computational medicine and its challenges for the future. In this report, the term "computational medicine" refers to cross-disciplinary research performed to develop or apply computational methods in medicine or in fields closely related to it. Computational medicine also includes technology research that concentrates on development of medical applications.

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Computational methods can be applied in several fields of medicine. For example, highly selective tumour targeting is being developed as a radiation therapy to fight severe brain tumours, and effective computational methods are needed to simulate the radiation effects. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is mainly applied to modelling of blood circulation. The achieved models can be used to examine, for instance, the origin of heart and vascular diseases, the function of the artificial cardiac valve, or to evaluate the effect of bypass surgeries on blood circulation, which is called virtual surgery.

Different types of application targets include molecular modelling used in drug discovery, or the effect on people of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields, such as those caused by cell phones. These are a few of the items discussed in the report, released by CSC, the centre for high-performance computing and networking.

Cross-disciplinary research is challenging, but it is also tedious, because in addition to his own area of expertise, the researcher must have sufficient knowledge of another field as well. This is a precondition for successful communication and co-operation. In particular, the limited training in computing and mathematics given to those working in medicine has often caused problems. The report recommends that co-operation should be increased between researchers of computational medicine and mathematicians, and that the amount of education on physics, mathematics, and computer technology should be increased in the curricula of medical students specialising in medical research.

An additional problem is finance. Cross-disciplinary projects often find it hard to compete with applications submitted by the different, individual disciplines, and it is often difficult to choose which discipline to represent as the applicant for funds. According to the survey, research groups suggest that one solution to the problem might be to designate separate funds for cross-disciplinary projects.

Research groups performing computational medicine indicated that they need external support for the development and problem-solving of modelling. Know-how is needed both in the field of mathematical algorithms and parallel computing, according to Satu Tissari, responsible for the survey at CSC Scientific Computing Ltd. Computer resources do not constiture the factor that is limiting research, since less than a quarter of the research groups finds the available resources inadequate. One group out of ten feels that the local data communication connections are too inefficient.

The report made by CSC is based on a questionnaire. Answers were received from 42 research units or research organisations performing computational medicine. The report Computational medicine and medical computing technology - Cross-disciplinary research in Finland is available, but only in Finnish, at the CSC Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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