Imec makes strides in creation of a medical digital twin for gut health

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Human gut health is closely associated with mental well-being, various degenerative diseases and chronic inflammation. A major component of this is the balance of microorganisms in the various digestive tracts. Researchers have made incredible progress in analyzing late-onset microbes and taking samples from both mouths. But so far, the relative formation of microorganisms in various sections in the middle has been a bit mysterious.

The ambitious collaboration in Europe hopes to change the human gut by creating a digital twin and its association with various health outcomes. At the Imec Future Summit conference in Antwerp, Chris Van Hoof, VP of R&D at Imec and general manager of the OnePlanet Research Center, discussed the company’s efforts to create a digital twin in the human gut. Imec’s team is working to accomplish this by combining new sensors, analytics and machine learning techniques under the guidance of nutritionists, doctors, medical researchers, chip designers and data scientists.

Medical researchers are making huge strides to create medical digital twins by searching for humans from outside. But so far there is very little understanding of what happens inside the digestive system.

“You can do gastroscopy and colonoscopy and stool analysis, but no one has charted the entire GI tract,” Van Hoof told VentureBeat.

Imec is a state-of-the-art R&D hub that facilitates industry collaboration around silicone chips, nanotechnology and health. The current effort involves collaborations with researchers from the University of Wageningen and research and the Redbud University Medical Center. And Van Hoof said they are seeking input and guidance from others to guide the research and scale up the initial research.

The largest surface

Medically, the surface of the intestine, called the lumen, is outside the body. Doctors consider it the largest surface of the human body, about 30 square meters. It acts as a filter and gatekeeper to capture nutrients and expel waste. And intestinal health is associated with diabetes, metabolic health, weight loss, a weakened immune system, mental health, and dozens of other diseases.

There are about 500-800 different populations of microorganisms in the body. The relative balance of this population is often associated with various diseases. Various studies have linked many chronic diseases to microbial populations. And many seemingly unrelated diseases share common microbiome signatures, Van Hoof said.

Researchers do not know why people develop a particular compound or how to tune it. In a recent study, some of Van Hoof’s colleagues ate foods rich in a range of plants that could affect their gut health. Everyone saw a change in diet, but the differences were unique to each person.

Many pieces of the medical digital twin

The elements of the Medical Digital Twin include a new sensor platform built into the Smart Peel, a toilet that analyzes stool and urine, an intelligent lunchbox, a camera that tracks what people eat and how they are fit to wear, and the measures relate to stress and mental well-being. . .

Small enough to be swallowed, strong enough to measure the right things and strong enough to survive in harsh environments conducive to breaking down most objects, a lot of work went into creating an elastic package. They are now working through the regulatory process and how to start the first human trial early next year.

A clear capsule with a tubular device with a black bumper on either side, next to a flat, T-shaped circuit board.
Smart tablet developed by Imec.
Photo courtesy Emack.

The team wanted to be able to take chemical and biological measurements, record physical characteristics such as sound, and communicate wirelessly. It also needed highly efficient electronics, as it needed to run for a week. They also needed to make a kind of GPS for the abdomen so that it could know where the body was moving.

Fine-tuning models

Today, information on what factors improve or worsen bowel health can only be known at the general population level. As a result, doctors focus on population-wise advice, such as avoiding fatty or spicy foods, which is not always helpful.

“We hope to create a model of the person to see if the cause of the flare-up is a virtual cause so that the person is not a guinea pig for treatment,” said Van Hoof. New interventions to see what works best. ”

The team is exploring a range of strategies ranging from individual digital twins to broad digital twins for groups based on genotype, phenotype or behavior or microbiome characteristics. “Hopefully we don’t have to build billions of models. Instead, we can build a few models and then fine-tune them based on the data we capture to make it more systematic,” Van Hoof said.

Creating these new models will require a different approach than other domains. For example, a cardiovascular researcher may observe electrocardiogram data to diagnose many diseases without knowing anything specific about the patient. “But there are no golden standards for what an indication should be for bowel health,” he said.

Functional insights

Prayas is also looking at the UI side of the digital twin. Most countries have a basic health pyramid that represents the basic elements of a healthy diet. But people need more behavior rather than an information approach to eat some things more and others less.

For example, they have created a smart snack box equipped with a camera to study people’s snack behaviors. It turns out that many people, especially those who eat breakfast frequently, tend to eat more calories than record due to unconscious eating patterns; And wearable sensors can track mental and stress changes before a person arrives for breakfast.

“We want physical changes before anyone wants some sweets. This is part of the model we hope to link to gut health, where we can capture these signals and hopefully lead people to healthier options, “said Van Hoof.

Creating the right data framework

The digital twin of intestinal health involves bringing together data from many sources and no one is sure how to do this. Along the way, the hope is that digital twins can work with sensors, applications and multi-party data infrastructure. But in the meantime, the group is integrating everything into Emac’s OpenPlanet infrastructure, a low-code platform for health and environmental research.

OpenPlanet includes applications for data collection, data connectivity, storage and analysis. It also supports curated algorithms and applications for various usage cases. For example, the data of wearables can be shared live between doctor and patient or between digital twin and health avatar. This could help democratize access to digital twins at the top of pre-built models, data formats and machine learning workflows powered with appropriate security and privacy guards.

Van Hoof believes that previous research on the relationship between gut health and other domains has been hampered by various ways of collecting, formatting and analyzing data. They avoid these problems by creating and integrating all the pieces of the house. Tools such as federated learning can help support a wide range of sensors, data sources, and road applications.

Creating a digital twin will require more extensive study and more partners with medical, commercial and healthcare expertise. Van Hoof said they are looking for other parties to join the efforts of food and beverage, pharmaceutical and medical technology companies.

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