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Development and Application of Human Virtual Excitable Tissues and Organs: From Premature Birth to Sudden Cardiac Death


Arun V. Holden

The electrical activity of cardiac and uterine tissues has been reconstructed by detailed computer models in the form of virtual tissues. Virtual tissues are biophysically and anatomically detailed, and represent quantitatively predictive models of the physiological and pathophysiological behaviours of tissue within an isolated organ. The cell excitation properties are quantitatively reproduced by equations that describe the kinetics of a few dozen proteins. These equations are derived from experimental measurements of membrane potentials, ionic currents, fluxes, and concentrations. Some of the measurements were taken from human cells and human ion channel proteins expressed in non-human cells, but they were mostly taken from cells of other animal species. Data on tissue geometry and architecture are obtained from the diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging of ex vivo or post mortem tissue, and are used to compute the spread of current in the tissue. Cardiac virtual tissues are well established and reproduce normal and pathological patterns of cardiac excitation within the atria or ventricles of the human heart. They have been applied to increase the understanding of normal cardiac electrophysiology, to evaluate the candidate mechanisms for re-entrant arrhythmias that lead to sudden cardiac death, and to predict the tissue level effects of mutant or pharmacologically-modified ion channels. The human full-term virtual uterus is still in development. This virtual tissue reproduces the in vitro behaviour of uterine tissue biopsies, and provides possible mechanisms for premature labour.