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biomedicine Better

Matthew Peach reports on how biomedical modelling software is helping to redefi ne diagnosis,

treatment and equipment design, and why the market for these packages is booming

of a prosthetic limb or a more energy effi cient artifi cial heart. Only 10 or so years ago, it was PhD-level researchers using biomedical design and simulation software, but today the many packages available have often been refi ned to the point where regular shop-fl oor staff can use them effectively. At the same time the power of these


packages (and the computers they run on) is making big leaps. Some specialists are talking excitedly about near-future developments, such as software-based manipulation and manufacture of treatment drug molecules in the home – the creation of genetically compatible remedies for individuals.

Cancer research A strategic research initiative in Sweden, called BioCARE (Biomarkers in Cancer Medicine Research), currently underway at the Universities of Lund and Gothenburg,


ost scientifi c advances in healthcare do not happen in big leaps, but by gradual increments – whether it’s a minor improvement in the design

is taking an in-depth look at the role of biomarkers in cancer research. A biomarker is any characteristic that can be objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacologic responses to a therapeutic intervention. When examined in molecular terms,

these biomarkers describe ‘the subset of markers that might be discovered using genomics, proteomics technologies or imaging technologies’. Viewed in this way, biomarkers could have a major role to play in medicinal biology, as they can help with early diagnosis, disease prevention, drug target identifi cation, drug response and more. As such, gene-based biomarkers are widely considered to be an effective way of studying human disease. Carl John Ivarsson, CEO of Qlucore, one

of the key software packages involved in the BioCARE project, says: ‘When identifi ed at an early stage, biomarkers can provide an important tool for diagnosing disease types and stages, predicting the outcomes of different therapies, as well as monitoring pharmaceutical

development. As such, the BioCARE project is focusing on different tumours in order to pursue the identifi cation and validation of biomarkers as both diagnostic and therapeutic targets, and also to facilitate the identifi cation of cancer subpopulations based on clinical behaviour and treatment response in tumours. ‘Looking 15 years back, the most data you

could generate about the human genome was about 100 genes’ worth at a time, but today we can analyse approximately 30,000 at a time – the total number in the human body. ‘Many researchers in the genetics fi eld are

working with tens of millions of data points so it is important that the scientifi c computing power is powerful enough to interpret these. We differentiate Qlucore with the fl exibility, power and ease of use that we offer. We are taking the analysis back to the biologist. We have two main types of user: in industry and academia.’ Another example of an academic user of

Qlucore’s software is Philippe Guardiola, head of the genomic facility at Angers University Hospital, France. Besides being a haematologist involved in researching leukaemia, Guardiola designs microarray experiments for gene expression and works in gene methylation profi ling. Inevitably, his work involves a great deal of data analysis and interpretation. A common feature of biomedical

applications of scientifi c computing is the vast amount of data involved, whether due to large human samples or large datasets generated

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