Life Sciences & HealthcareNovember 7, 2023

Virtual twins for precision medicine

How one avatar is using storytelling to drive awareness about the future of medicine
Avatar Gabby Gelbien

Did you know that women are more likely than men to dismiss the warning signs of a heart attack? 

Even though heart disease is the leading cause of death globally among both genders, women historically wait hours or longer to call 911 or go to the hospital. When they do go, doctors are less likely to provide a thorough investigation and dismiss their symptoms as anxiety or stress. Why? Women tend to present more subtle symptoms than men and these symptoms have been wildly underresearched. 

For years, women, particularly women of color, have been excluded from clinical trials. Today in the U.S., just 20 to 25% of participants in clinical trials related to heart attacks are women, according to Dr. Lansky who directs the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center. As heart disease in women ages 35-54 rises, the call to study how heart disease manifests and presents itself in the unique heart of women has never been greater. 

What if there was a way to replace the time and people needed for a successful clinical trial with technology? Enter virtual twins for precision medicine. Virtual twins are 3D models that represent a physical product or system. Historically used in the automotive, aerospace, energy and hi-tech industries to test products before they’re built, physicians and surgeons can now use virtual twins to analyze their patients’ health and plan personalized therapies and surgeries using advanced simulation.

Why does precision medicine matter? 

Also known as “personalized medicine” precision medicine is an innovative approach that considers a patient’s individual genes, environments and lifestyle to make the most informed recommendation and treatment plan. Why is this important? In the past, doctors have made recommendations based on clinical trials and the expected response of the average person. We know now that this approach does not work for everyone and heart disease is far from being the only condition that varies from person to person. No longer are patients accepting a “one size fits all” approach to medicine and medical professionals will increasingly be finding new ways to provide more precise diagnoses, treatment and care. 

Why do virtual twins matter for precision medicine?

Precision medicine can only occur when we can visualize, test and predict what we cannot see –  which is much of the human body. This is where virtual twins will play a crucial role. A virtual twin can create a 3D model of a body part taken from a patient’s unique medical information combined with an extensive range of data specific to each individual patient. By combining these results, medical professionals gain a holistic view of a patient’s unique anatomy and begin to consider the right course of action. 

For example, a doctor may create a scientifically accurate and fully functioning virtual model of an individual woman’s heart. Doctors can not only observe and analyze this heart to better understand how heart disease manifests in specific women, but can even test out treatment options, including surgery, before it happens, to ensure the best treatment is chosen for a given individual. We’ve already seen this done with The Living Heart Project, which is revolutionizing cardiovascular research, and virtual twins have the potential to produce a full virtual twin of the human body – enabling a level of precision healthcare never seen before. 

OK. … so how do we take the healthcare industry to the next level?

We at Dassault Systèmes believe it will be two things: 

  1. Virtual twins and
  2. Powerful storytelling. 

That’s why we’ve created The Only Progress is Human, a communication initiative designed to showcase how virtual twin technology can help solve the challenges we face today – including those in the healthcare sector – by telling stories that resonate with the greater community and raise awareness about the power of virtual twins. 

Meet Emma Twin: The avatar spreading awareness about virtual twins in precision medicine

Here at Dassault Systèmes, we have a new co-worker and she may just be taking on the company’s greatest role yet. 

Emma is an avatar embodying a virtual twin. She was created to raise awareness about how researchers and doctors can use virtual twin technology for a variety of purposes and to analyze the effects of disease and test new remedies. While she improves the lives of hypothetical patients in the fictional world, tomorrow you can use your own Virtual Twin to save real patients. 

Emma is sharing her “treatment” process in real-time as a virtual consultant on LinkedIn, where she uses storytelling to explain how virtual twins can help create a more patient-centric healthcare model and improve precision medicine. From participating in remote heart surgery simulations or testing cutting-edge corneal transplants, Emma was created to spread awareness of all that virtual twins can do and provide insight into what the future of medicine can look like. 

“Through Emma Twin, we will share stories about the impact of virtual twins on healthcare, in an engaging, meaningful way,” said Victoire de Margerie, Vice President of Corporate Equity, Marketing & Communications at Dassault Systèmes.

Emma learns about virtual radiotherapy rooms

In this social media post shared with over 2K followers, Emma showcases how virtual twins can be used for not only creating 3D models of specific body parts but also for simulating upcoming treatment experiences that people might find intimidating. 

Radiotherapy can often be an overwhelming and stressful environment for patients, but with virtual twins, a care team can guide a patient virtually through the radiotherapy experience and answer questions along the way. Emotional support is an important component of precision medicine and many people face anxiety over treatment. Emma shows how virtual twins can be used to empower patients through all different stages of their medical journey.

Learn more about the VORTHEx project

Emma participates in heart research

On LinkedIn, Emma demonstrates how virtual twins can be used to simulate and test out new types of heart surgery on 3D models of hearts. Everyone’s heart is a little bit different and one surgery may not work for another. By using real heart data and advanced visualization, doctors can better understand how one heart reacts to treatment, what the optimal procedure for recovery is and even design the next cardiac implant. Incorporating virtual twins in precision medicine allows all of this will be done before a patient is involved.

Learn more about The Living Heart Project

What’s next for virtual twins and precision medicine? 

When it comes to precision medicine, the future looks bright. As doctors continue moving beyond the traditional “one size fits all” approach to one that treats each patient as an individual, medical professionals can gain deep insight into areas that have been previously under-researched while providing greater patient outcomes. 

With Dassault Systèmes already working on advanced projects related to the heart, brain and skin, it is safe to say that producing a full virtual twin of the human body may very well be on its way. 

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