Researchers Create Digital Babies to Understand Infant Health

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Researchers Create Digital Babies to Understand Infant Health

Scientists at the University of Galway have achieved a significant milestone in understanding infant health during the critical first 180 days of life. Their innovative approach involves creating digital babies—advanced computer models that simulate the unique metabolic processes of each newborn.

Unraveling the Complexity of Infant Metabolism

The team developed 360 computational whole-body models, representing both male and female infants. These models incorporate 26 organs, six cell types, and over 80,000 metabolic reactions. Real-life data from 10,000 newborns—including sex, birth weight, and metabolite concentrations—enabled the creation and validation of these personalised models.

Researchers Create Digital Babies To Understand Infant Health

Lead author Elaine Zaunseder from Heidelberg University emphasised that “babies are not just small adults.” Their unique metabolic features, such as the need for energy to regulate body temperature, require specialised modelling. For instance, infants cannot shiver during their first six months of life, so metabolic processes must ensure they stay warm.

Bridging the Gap with Computational Modelling

The computational models provide a detailed view of organ-specific energy demands, which significantly differ between infants and adults. By incorporating breast milk data from real newborns, the researchers simulated the associated metabolism throughout the entire baby’s body. Remarkably, the digital babies’ growth trajectories matched those of real-world infants over six months.

Precision Medicine and Disease Management

Professor Ines Thiele, the study lead, highlighted the importance of personalised approaches to disease management. Newborn screening programs play a crucial role in detecting metabolic diseases early, improving infant survival rates. However, the variability in disease manifestation underscores the need for tailored solutions.

The models allow researchers to explore the metabolism of healthy infants and those suffering from inherited metabolic diseases. When simulating disease metabolism, the models accurately predict known biomarkers. Additionally, they offer insights into metabolic responses to various treatment strategies, demonstrating their potential in clinical settings.

Revolutionising Paediatric Healthcare

Elaine Zaunseder believes that this work represents a significant step toward establishing digital metabolic twins for infants. These digital twins could revolutionise paediatric healthcare by enabling precise disease management based on each infant’s unique metabolic needs.

The University of Galway’s Digital Metabolic Twin Centre, in collaboration with Heidelberg University, hopes that their pioneering research will pave the way for improved diagnosis and treatment during the critical early days of a baby’s life.

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