Researchers have already developed models of many of the major organs (see diagram). Lars Küpfer at Bayer Technology Services, a pharmaceutical company in Leverkusen, Germany, and colleagues have created a virtual liver, for example, which they can use to investigate the toxicity of substances such as paracetamol. "The virtual human is the ultimate goal of computational biology," says Küpfer. "Current models, including the ones we are using, are important milestones along the way."
The ability to simulate biological functions is becoming important for developing more effective drugs. "Pharma companies are in trouble using their existing routes," says Coveney. Drugs often don't work for significant subsets of the population. "It's not one size fits all."
One of the goals of the Virtual Physiological Human project is for people to participate in their own medical care, simulating the outcomes of certain choices and even self-diagnosing. But with control comes responsibility. Will we listen to our simulated self?
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