In recent years, I’ve come across a number of cases in which engineering simulation has been used in medical treatment for real people, all in various ways. It is no longer confined to research laboratories for demonstration purposes. Roughly speaking, these scenarios correlate the functionality of a living organ to a corresponding machine, such as a heart to a pump, bones to beams, and so on. Thanks to advancements in simulation technology, millions of people today have been cured in a way that is much better than once thought possible.
Now I am perplexed by this thought: How far could this analogy go? I got one answer while reading a featured story about employing simulation for cancer research on the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) site, written by Dr. Suse Broyde, a biology professor at NYU.
Researchers employed simulation at the molecular level to determine how a carcinogen would interact with DNA strands through van der Waals forces. Their aim was to use simulation results to help in designing customized drugs for resisting specific carcinogens.
Admittedly, some details of their research were beyond my scope of interest, so I pressed on in my search to find out more. On Broyde’s own site, she wrote:
“We employ computer modeling, molecular mechanics and dynamics simulations and quantum mechanical calculations for structural and thermodynamic analyses, to connect structure and thermodynamics with biological function.”
Interesting. But I think that computational physics is way ahead of computational biology. Virtual simulation began back in the 1970s. Yet the first molecular simulation of ribosome bacteria with atomic detail was done in 2005 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory! In July 2012, we have this breaking news of Stanford scientists simulating the first-ever entire organism of single-cell bacteria, mycoplasma genitalium — and it has the smallest genome of any independent organism.
These experiments serve as a good sign that simulation is rapidly and precisely used for fundamental investigation in the healthcare domain. I look forward to seeing the future of simulation, with maturing computational biology integrating with computational physics.
Imagine, at that time there will be minimal or no genetic experiments on living beings. Since it’s a very distant dream, all I can do today is simulate it in my mind only!