Computational biologists have been developing standards and formats for nearly two decades, with the aim of easing the description and exchange of experimental data, mathematical models, simulation experiments, etc. One of those efforts is CellML (cellml.org), an XML-based markup language for the encoding of mathematical models. Early CellML-based environments include COR and OpenCell. However, both of those tools have limitations and were eventually replaced with OpenCOR (opencor.ws). OpenCOR is an open source modeling environment that is supported on Windows, Linux and OS X. It relies on a modular approach, which means that all of its features come in the form of plugins. Those plugins can be used to organize, edit, simulate and analyze models encoded in the CellML format. We start with an introduction to CellML and two of its early adopters, which limitations eventually led to the development of OpenCOR. We then go onto describing the general philosophy behind OpenCOR, as well as describing its openness and its development process. Next, we illustrate various aspects of OpenCOR, such as its user interface and some of the plugins that come bundled with it (e.g., its editing and simulation plugins). Finally, we discuss some of the advantages and limitations of OpenCOR before drawing some concluding remarks.
computational biology; software; interoperability; CellML; metadata
Acquired brain injury (ABI) is the leading cause of disability worldwide yet there is little information regarding the most effective way to organise ABI health care services. The aim of this review was to identify the most up-to-date high quality evidence to answer specific questions regarding the organisation of health care services for people with an ABI.
We conducted a systematic review of English papers using MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library. We included the most recently published high quality systematic reviews and any randomised controlled trials, non-randomised controlled trials, controlled before after studies or interrupted time series studies published subsequent to the systematic review. We searched for papers that evaluated pre-defined organisational interventions for adults with an ABI. Organisational interventions of interest included fee-for-service care, integrated care, integrated care pathways, continuity of care, consumer engagement in governance and quality monitoring interventions. Data extraction and appraisal of included reviews and studies was completed independently by two reviewers.
A total of five systematic reviews and 21 studies were included in the review; eight of the papers (31%) included people with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or ABI and the remaining papers (69%) included only participants with a diagnosis of stroke. We found evidence supporting the use of integrated care to improve functional outcome and reduce length of stay and evidence supporting early supported discharge teams for reducing morbidity and mortality and reducing length of stay for stroke survivors. There was little evidence to support case management or the use of integrated care pathways for people with ABI. We found evidence that a quality monitoring intervention can lead to improvements in process outcomes in acute and rehabilitation settings. We were unable to find any studies meeting our inclusion criteria regarding fee-for-service care or engaging consumers in the governance of the health care organisation.
The review found evidence to support integrated care, early supported discharge and quality monitoring interventions however, this evidence was based on studies conducted with people following stroke and may not be appropriate for all people with an ABI.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-397) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Brain injuries; Craniocerebral trauma; Stroke; Systematic review; Rehabilitation; Case management; Delivery of health care; Quality assurance (Health Care)
The genotype–phenotype map (GP map) concept applies to any time point in the ontogeny of a living system. It is the outcome of very complex dynamics that include environmental effects, and bridging the genotype–phenotype gap is synonymous with understanding these dynamics. The context for this understanding is physiology, and the disciplinary goals of physiology do indeed demand the physiological community to seek this understanding. We claim that this task is beyond reach without use of mathematical models that bind together genetic and phenotypic data in a causally cohesive way. We provide illustrations of such causally cohesive genotype–phenotype models where the phenotypes span from gene expression profiles to development of whole organs. Bridging the genotype–phenotype gap also demands that large-scale biological (‘omics’) data and associated bioinformatics resources be more effectively integrated with computational physiology than is currently the case. A third major element is the need for developing a phenomics technology way beyond current state of the art, and we advocate the establishment of a Human Phenome Programme solidly grounded on biophysically based mathematical descriptions of human physiology.
The new discipline of computational biomedicine is concerned with the application of computer-based techniques and particularly modelling and simulation to human health. Since 2007, this discipline has been synonymous, in Europe, with the name given to the European Union's ambitious investment in integrating these techniques with the eventual aim of modelling the human body as a whole: the virtual physiological human. This programme and its successors are expected, over the next decades, to transform the study and practice of healthcare, moving it towards the priorities known as ‘4P's’: predictive, preventative, personalized and participatory medicine.
computational biomedicine; virtual physiological human; to human health
European funding under Framework 7 (FP7) for the virtual physiological human (VPH) project has been in place now for 5 years. The VPH Network of Excellence (NoE) has been set up to help develop common standards, open source software, freely accessible data and model repositories, and various training and dissemination activities for the project. It is also working to coordinate the many clinically targeted projects that have been funded under the FP7 calls. An initial vision for the VPH was defined by the FP6 STEP project in 2006. In 2010, we wrote an assessment of the accomplishments of the first two years of the VPH in which we considered the biomedical science, healthcare and information and communications technology challenges facing the project (Hunter et al. 2010 Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A
368, 2595–2614 (doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0048)). We proposed that a not-for-profit professional umbrella organization, the VPH Institute, should be established as a means of sustaining the VPH vision beyond the time-frame of the NoE. Here, we update and extend this assessment and in particular address the following issues raised in response to Hunter et al.: (i) a vision for the VPH updated in the light of progress made so far, (ii) biomedical science and healthcare challenges that the VPH initiative can address while also providing innovation opportunities for the European industry, and (iii) external changes needed in regulatory policy and business models to realize the full potential that the VPH has to offer to industry, clinics and society generally.
virtual physiological human; physiome; computational physiology; systems biology; multiscale modelling
OpenCMISS is an open-source modeling environment aimed, in particular, at the solution of bioengineering problems. OpenCMISS consists of two main parts: a computational library (OpenCMISS-Iron) and a field manipulation and visualization library (OpenCMISS-Zinc). OpenCMISS is designed for the solution of coupled multi-scale, multi-physics problems in a general-purpose parallel environment. CellML is an XML format designed to encode biophysically based systems of ordinary differential equations and both linear and non-linear algebraic equations. A primary design goal of CellML is to allow mathematical models to be encoded in a modular and reusable format to aid reproducibility and interoperability of modeling studies. In OpenCMISS, we make use of CellML models to enable users to configure various aspects of their multi-scale physiological models. This avoids the need for users to be familiar with the OpenCMISS internal code in order to perform customized computational experiments. Examples of this are: cellular electrophysiology models embedded in tissue electrical propagation models; material constitutive relationships for mechanical growth and deformation simulations; time-varying boundary conditions for various problem domains; and fluid constitutive relationships and lumped-parameter models. In this paper, we provide implementation details describing how CellML models are integrated into multi-scale physiological models in OpenCMISS. The external interface OpenCMISS presents to users is also described, including specific examples exemplifying the extensibility and usability these tools provide the physiological modeling and simulation community. We conclude with some thoughts on future extension of OpenCMISS to make use of other community developed information standards, such as FieldML, SED-ML, and BioSignalML. Plans for the integration of accelerator code (graphical processing unit and field programmable gate array) generated from CellML models is also discussed.
CellML; OpenCMISS; physiome project; virtual physiological human; multi-scale physiological model
Histology information management relies on complex knowledge derived from morphological tissue analyses. These approaches have not significantly facilitated the general integration of tissue- and molecular-level knowledge across the board in support of a systematic classification of tissue function, as well as the coherent multi-scale study of physiology. Our work aims to support directly these integrative goals.
We describe, for the first time, the precise biophysical and topological characteristics of functional units of tissue. Such a unit consists of a three-dimensional block of cells centred around a capillary, such that each cell in this block is within diffusion distance from any other cell in the same block. We refer to this block as a functional tissue unit. As a means of simplifying the knowledge representation of this unit, and rendering this knowledge more amenable to automated reasoning and classification, we developed a simple descriptor of its cellular content and anatomical location, which we refer to as a primary tissue motif. In particular, a primary motif captures the set of cellular participants of diffusion-mediated interactions brokered by secreted products to create a tissue-level molecular network.
Multi-organ communication, therefore, may be interpreted in terms of interactions between molecular networks housed by interconnected functional tissue units. By extension, a functional picture of an organ, or its tissue components, may be rationally assembled using a collection of these functional tissue units as building blocks. In our work, we outline the biophysical rationale for a rigorous definition of a unit of functional tissue organization, and demonstrate the application of primary motifs in tissue classification. In so doing, we acknowledge (i) the fundamental role of capillaries in directing and radically informing tissue architecture, as well as (ii) the importance of taking into full account the critical influence of neighbouring cellular environments when studying complex developmental and pathological phenomena.
It is undeniable that the increasing costs in healthcare are a concern. Although technological advancements have been made in healthcare systems, the return on investment made by governments and payers has been poor. The current model of care is unsustainable and is due for an upgrade. In developed nations, a law of diminishing returns has been noted in population health standards, whilst in the developing world, westernized chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease have become emerging problems. The reasons for these trends are complex, multifactorial and not easily reversed. Personalized medicine has the potential to have a significant impact on these issues, but for it to be truly successful, interdisciplinary mass collaboration is required. We propose here a vision for open-access advanced analytics for personalized cardiac diagnostics using imaging, electrocardiography and genomics.
pharmacogenomics; echocardiography; electrocardiography; personalized medicine; genomics
The FieldML project has made significant progress towards the goal of addressing the need to have open standards and open source software for representing finite element method (FEM) models and, more generally, multivariate field models, such as many of the models that are core to the euHeart project and the Physiome project. FieldML version 0.5 is the most recently released format from the FieldML project. It is an XML format that already has sufficient capability to represent the majority of euHeart’s explicit models such as the anatomical FEM models and simulation solution fields. The details of FieldML version 0.5 are presented, as well as its limitations and some discussion of the progress being made to address these limitations.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11517-013-1097-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Science technology; Life sciences biomedicine; Biochemical research methods; Mathematical computational biology; Mathematical models; FieldML; CellML
We present the development of a tool, which provides users with the ability to visualize and interact with a comprehensive description of a multi-scale model of the renal nephron. A one-dimensional anatomical model of the nephron has been created and is used for visualization and modelling of tubule transport in various nephron anatomical segments. Mathematical models of nephron segments are embedded in the one-dimensional model. At the cellular level, these segment models use models encoded in CellML to describe cellular and subcellular transport kinetics. A web-based presentation environment has been developed that allows the user to visualize and navigate through the multi-scale nephron model, including simulation results, at the different spatial scales encompassed by the model description. The Zinc extension to Firefox is used to provide an interactive three-dimensional view of the tubule model and the native Firefox rendering of scalable vector graphics is used to present schematic diagrams for cellular and subcellular scale models. The model viewer is embedded in a web page that dynamically presents content based on user input. For example, when viewing the whole nephron model, the user might be presented with information on the various embedded segment models as they select them in the three-dimensional model view. Alternatively, the user chooses to focus the model viewer on a cellular model located in a particular nephron segment in order to view the various membrane transport proteins. Selecting a specific protein may then present the user with a description of the mathematical model governing the behaviour of that protein—including the mathematical model itself and various simulation experiments used to validate the model against the literature.
physiome project; CellML; computational physiology
The loss of cardiac pump function accounts for a significant increase in both mortality and morbidity in Western society, where there is currently a one in four lifetime risk, and costs associated with acute and long-term hospital treatments are accelerating. The significance of cardiac disease has motivated the application of state-of-the-art clinical imaging techniques and functional signal analysis to aid diagnosis and clinical planning. Measurements of cardiac function currently provide high-resolution datasets for characterizing cardiac patients. However, the clinical practice of using population-based metrics derived from separate image or signal-based datasets often indicates contradictory treatments plans owing to inter-individual variability in pathophysiology. To address this issue, the goal of our work, demonstrated in this study through four specific clinical applications, is to integrate multiple types of functional data into a consistent framework using multi-scale computational modelling.
cardiac modelling; patient specific; multi-scale; virtual physiological human
The Virtual Physiological Human is synonymous with a programme in computational biomedicine that aims to develop a framework of methods and technologies to investigate the human body as a whole. It is predicated on the transformational character of information technology, brought to bear on that most crucial of human concerns, our own health and well-being.
computational biomedicine; biotechnology; biomedical informatics
Polymorphisms identified in genome-wide association studies of human traits rarely explain more than a small proportion of the heritable variation, and improving this situation within the current paradigm appears daunting. Given a well-validated dynamic model of a complex physiological trait, a substantial part of the underlying genetic variation must manifest as variation in model parameters. These parameters are themselves phenotypic traits. By linking whole-cell phenotypic variation to genetic variation in a computational model of a single heart cell, incorporating genotype-to-parameter maps, we show that genome-wide association studies on parameters reveal much more genetic variation than when using higher-level cellular phenotypes. The results suggest that letting such studies be guided by computational physiology may facilitate a causal understanding of the genotype-to-phenotype map of complex traits, with strong implications for the development of phenomics technology.
Despite an ever-increasing number of genome locations reported to be associated with complex human diseases or quantitative traits, only a small proportion of phenotypic variations in a typical quantitative trait can be explained by the discovered variants. We argue that this problem can partly be resolved by combining the statistical methods of quantitative genetics with computational biology. We demonstrate this for the in silico genotype-to-phenotype map of a model heart cell in conjunction with publically accessible genomic data. We show that genome wide association studies (GWAS) on model parameters identify more causal variants and can build better prediction models for the higher-level phenotypes than by performing GWAS on the higher-level phenotypes themselves. Since model parameters are in principle measurable physiological phenotypes, our findings suggest that development of future phenotyping technologies could be guided by mathematical models of the biological systems being targeted.
Understanding the causal chain from genotypic to phenotypic variation is a tremendous challenge with huge implications for personalized medicine. Here we argue that linking computational physiology to genetic concepts, methodology, and data provides a new framework for this endeavor. We exemplify this causally cohesive genotype–phenotype (cGP) modeling approach using a detailed mathematical model of a heart cell. In silico genetic variation is mapped to parametric variation, which propagates through the physiological model to generate multivariate phenotypes for the action potential and calcium transient under regular pacing, and ion currents under voltage clamping. The resulting genotype-to-phenotype map is characterized using standard quantitative genetic methods and novel applications of high-dimensional data analysis. These analyses reveal many well-known genetic phenomena like intralocus dominance, interlocus epistasis, and varying degrees of phenotypic correlation. In particular, we observe penetrance features such as the masking/release of genetic variation, so that without any change in the regulatory anatomy of the model, traits may appear monogenic, oligogenic, or polygenic depending on which genotypic variation is actually present in the data. The results suggest that a cGP modeling approach may pave the way for a computational physiological genomics capable of generating biological insight about the genotype–phenotype relation in ways that statistical-genetic approaches cannot.
causally cohesive genotype–phenotype modeling; multivariate genotype-to-phenotype map; cGP heart model; penetrance; epistasis
Weight loss and under-nutrition are relatively common in older people, and are associated with poor outcomes including increased rates of hospital admissions and death. In a pilot study of 49 undernourished older, community dwelling people we found that daily treatment for one year with a combination of testosterone tablets and a nutritional supplement produced a significant reduction in hospitalizations. We propose a larger, multicentre study to explore and hopefully confirm this exciting, potentially important finding (NHMRC project grant number 627178).
One year randomized control trial where subjects are allocated to either oral testosterone undecanoate and high calorie oral nutritional supplement or placebo medication and low calorie oral nutritional supplementation. 200 older community-dwelling, undernourished people [Mini Nutritional Assessment score <24 and either: a) low body weight (body mass index, in kg/m2: <22) or b) recent weight loss (>7.5% over 3 months)]. Hospital admissions, quality-adjusted life years, functional status, nutritional health, muscle strength, body composition and other variables will be assessed.
The pilot study showed that combined treatment with an oral testosterone and a supplement drink was well tolerated and safe, and reduced the number of people hospitalised and duration of hospital admissions in undernourished, community dwelling older people. This is an exciting finding, as it identifies a treatment which may be of substantial benefit to many older people in our community. We now propose to conduct a multi-centre study to test these findings in a substantially larger subject group, and to determine the cost effectiveness of this treatment.
Australian Clinical Trial Registry: ACTRN 12610000356066
Motivation: Integrative mathematical and statistical models of cardiac anatomy and physiology can play a vital role in understanding cardiac disease phenotype and planning therapeutic strategies. However, the accuracy and predictive power of such models is dependent upon the breadth and depth of noninvasive imaging datasets. The Cardiac Atlas Project (CAP) has established a large-scale database of cardiac imaging examinations and associated clinical data in order to develop a shareable, web-accessible, structural and functional atlas of the normal and pathological heart for clinical, research and educational purposes. A goal of CAP is to facilitate collaborative statistical analysis of regional heart shape and wall motion and characterize cardiac function among and within population groups.
Results: Three main open-source software components were developed: (i) a database with web-interface; (ii) a modeling client for 3D + time visualization and parametric description of shape and motion; and (iii) open data formats for semantic characterization of models and annotations. The database was implemented using a three-tier architecture utilizing MySQL, JBoss and Dcm4chee, in compliance with the DICOM standard to provide compatibility with existing clinical networks and devices. Parts of Dcm4chee were extended to access image specific attributes as search parameters. To date, approximately 3000 de-identified cardiac imaging examinations are available in the database. All software components developed by the CAP are open source and are freely available under the Mozilla Public License Version 1.1 (http://www.mozilla.org/MPL/MPL-1.1.txt).
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
We propose an innovative, integrated, cost-effective health system to combat major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular, chronic respiratory, metabolic, rheumatologic and neurologic disorders and cancers, which together are the predominant health problem of the 21st century. This proposed holistic strategy involves comprehensive patient-centered integrated care and multi-scale, multi-modal and multi-level systems approaches to tackle NCDs as a common group of diseases. Rather than studying each disease individually, it will take into account their intertwined gene-environment, socio-economic interactions and co-morbidities that lead to individual-specific complex phenotypes. It will implement a road map for predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory (P4) medicine based on a robust and extensive knowledge management infrastructure that contains individual patient information. It will be supported by strategic partnerships involving all stakeholders, including general practitioners associated with patient-centered care. This systems medicine strategy, which will take a holistic approach to disease, is designed to allow the results to be used globally, taking into account the needs and specificities of local economies and health systems.
European funding under framework 7 (FP7) for the virtual physiological human (VPH) project has been in place now for nearly 2 years. The VPH network of excellence (NoE) is helping in the development of common standards, open-source software, freely accessible data and model repositories, and various training and dissemination activities for the project. It is also helping to coordinate the many clinically targeted projects that have been funded under the FP7 calls. An initial vision for the VPH was defined by framework 6 strategy for a European physiome (STEP) project in 2006. It is now time to assess the accomplishments of the last 2 years and update the STEP vision for the VPH. We consider the biomedical science, healthcare and information and communications technology challenges facing the project and we propose the VPH Institute as a means of sustaining the vision of VPH beyond the time frame of the NoE.
virtual physiological human; physiome; computational physiology; multi-scale modelling
Deterministic dynamic models of complex biological systems contain a large number of parameters and state variables, related through nonlinear differential equations with various types of feedback. A metamodel of such a dynamic model is a statistical approximation model that maps variation in parameters and initial conditions (inputs) to variation in features of the trajectories of the state variables (outputs) throughout the entire biologically relevant input space. A sufficiently accurate mapping can be exploited both instrumentally and epistemically. Multivariate regression methodology is a commonly used approach for emulating dynamic models. However, when the input-output relations are highly nonlinear or non-monotone, a standard linear regression approach is prone to give suboptimal results. We therefore hypothesised that a more accurate mapping can be obtained by locally linear or locally polynomial regression. We present here a new method for local regression modelling, Hierarchical Cluster-based PLS regression (HC-PLSR), where fuzzy C-means clustering is used to separate the data set into parts according to the structure of the response surface. We compare the metamodelling performance of HC-PLSR with polynomial partial least squares regression (PLSR) and ordinary least squares (OLS) regression on various systems: six different gene regulatory network models with various types of feedback, a deterministic mathematical model of the mammalian circadian clock and a model of the mouse ventricular myocyte function.
Our results indicate that multivariate regression is well suited for emulating dynamic models in systems biology. The hierarchical approach turned out to be superior to both polynomial PLSR and OLS regression in all three test cases. The advantage, in terms of explained variance and prediction accuracy, was largest in systems with highly nonlinear functional relationships and in systems with positive feedback loops.
HC-PLSR is a promising approach for metamodelling in systems biology, especially for highly nonlinear or non-monotone parameter to phenotype maps. The algorithm can be flexibly adjusted to suit the complexity of the dynamic model behaviour, inviting automation in the metamodelling of complex systems.
Building repositories of computational models of biological systems ensures that published models are available for both education and further research, and can provide a source of smaller, previously verified models to integrate into a larger model.
One problem with earlier repositories has been the limitations in facilities to record the revision history of models. Often, these facilities are limited to a linear series of versions which were deposited in the repository. This is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, there are many instances in the history of biological systems modelling where an 'ancestral' model is modified by different groups to create many different models. With a linear series of versions, if the changes made to one model are merged into another model, the merge appears as a single item in the history. This hides useful revision history information, and also makes further merges much more difficult, as there is no record of which changes have or have not already been merged. In addition, a long series of individual changes made outside of the repository are also all merged into a single revision when they are put back into the repository, making it difficult to separate out individual changes. Furthermore, many earlier repositories only retain the revision history of individual files, rather than of a group of files. This is an important limitation to overcome, because some types of models, such as CellML 1.1 models, can be developed as a collection of modules, each in a separate file.
The need for revision history is widely recognised for computer software, and a lot of work has gone into developing version control systems and distributed version control systems (DVCSs) for tracking the revision history. However, to date, there has been no published research on how DVCSs can be applied to repositories of computational models of biological systems.
We have extended the Physiome Model Repository software to be fully revision history aware, by building it on top of Mercurial, an existing DVCS. We have demonstrated the utility of this approach, when used in conjunction with the model composition facilities in CellML, to build and understand more complex models. We have also demonstrated the ability of the repository software to present version history to casual users over the web, and to highlight specific versions which are likely to be useful to users.
Providing facilities for maintaining and using revision history information is an important part of building a useful repository of computational models, as this information is useful both for understanding the source of and justification for parts of a model, and to facilitate automated processes such as merges. The availability of fully revision history aware repositories, and associated tools, will therefore be of significant benefit to the community.
The field modelling language FieldML is being developed as a standard for modelling and interchanging field descriptions in software, suitable for a wide range of computation techniques. It comprises a rich set of operators for defining generalized fields as functions of other fields, starting with basic domain fields including sets of discrete objects and coordinate systems. It is extensible by adding new operators and by their arbitrary combination in expressions, making it well suited for describing the inherent complexity of biological materials and organ systems. This paper describes the concepts behind FieldML, including a simple example of a spatially varying finite-element field. It outlines current implementations in established, open source computation and visualization software, both drawing on decades of bioengineering modelling software development experience.
field; modelling; computation; serialization; FieldML