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A computational model simulates the clinical evolution of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

A computational model simulates the clinical evolution of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

This is the first result of the project INSPIRE, funded by the Spanish Ministry of the Economy and Competitiveness, and aims to create advanced computational models to improve the early detection of COPD. A paper by the SIMBIOsys research group, directed by Miguel Ángel González Ballester, ICREA research professor, in collaboration with the Department of Biomechanics and Mechanobiology at BCN MedTech is published in Frontiers in Physiology.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a respiratory disorder that incapacitates the patients that suffer it. It is highly prevalent and involves a significant economic and social cost. COPD is characterized by different clinical phenotypes with different risk profiles. The term phenotype in COPD is defined as those attributes of the disease that alone or combined describe the differences between individuals with COPD in relation to clinically significant parameters.

The early detection of the right phenotype, especially for those subjects who have emphysema, a type of COPD in which the lung tissue is destroyed, and the ability to predict the risk of major exacerbations, are key elements when establishing more effective treatment.

This has been the goal of an investigation that has set up a model that simulates the development of pulmonary emphysema at cell, molecular and tissue level, able to reflect the clinical evolution of the disease displayed by computed tomography images. The details of this technology have been published recently in Frontiers in Physiology. A study performed by Mario Ceresa, in conjunction with Andy L. Olivares, is the result of the fusion of skills between the Simulation, Imaging and Modelling for Biomedical Systems (SIMBIOsys) research group, directed by Miguel Ángel González Ballester, ICREA research professor, and the area of Biomechanics and Mechanobiology of BCN MedTech, coordinated by Jérôme Noailly (Ramón y Cajal researcher) integrated in SIMBIOsys, in the Department of Information and Communications Technologies (DTIC) at UPF. This work has also enjoyed the support of the DTIC’s Maria de Maeztu programme and the QUAES-UPF Foundation Chair.

The authors start from the fact that the onset and progression of pulmonary emphysema are highly influenced by a complex interaction between the immune system and the mechanical properties of biological tissue that causes chronic inflammation and tissue remodelling. In the paper they present a model of multiple aspects that joins the existing biological models of inflammation and immune response as a set of coupled nonlinear differential equations along with a simulation of the biomechanical effects to which the sick lung tissue is exposed.

As the study authors state: “This model has been validated with a public database of images of pulmonary emphysema from patients diagnosed with COPD and we have seen that this model simulates irrefutably the evolution of the biomarkers of the clinical images taken as the disease progresses in these patients”. It can therefore be concluded that this simulation is a first step in the construction of advanced computational models that can be of great use to characterize COPD, help with its diagnosis, and predict its evolution. 

INSPIRE, a project advancing towards personalized medicine and improved quality of life

This work, published in Frontiers in Physiology, is part of the INSPIRE research project (FIS2017-89535-C2-2-R) for the multiscale modelling of mechanical and biological mechanisms of the advanced progression of COPD based on clinical evidence. Funded by the Spanish Ministry of the Economy and Competitiveness (Challenges-Research programme), INSPIRE is an initiative promoted by Mario Ceresa, Jérôme Noailly and Miguel Ángel González Ballester, in collaboration with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-National Center for Supercomputing (BSC-CNS). Jérôme Noailly (UPF) and Guillaume Houzeaux (BSC-CNS) are the principal investigators of this project whose technological scope will provide new knowledge that will prove significant in improving the quality of life of patients with COPD.

INSIPIRE will develop a model that integrates the different parameters involved in COPD to better characterize the disease and be able to offer personalized treatment to the patient. Likewise, it is expected to allow optimizing the exploitation of the results obtained by Genome Wide Association, relating molecular descriptors and images and facilitating the recruitment and differentiated grouping of patients according to their characteristics.

The description of a model based on medical images highly correlated with clinical trials will allow early diagnosis and enhanced monitoring of the disease, as well as being able to act in its early stages, thus facilitating the evaluation of the effectiveness of treatments in the short term.

Reference work:

Mario Ceresa, Andy L. Olivares, Jérôme Noailly, Miguel A. González Ballester (2018), “Coupled Immunological and Biomechanical Model of Emphysema Progression”, Frontiers in Physiology, 19 April,