In this interesting podcast, Mariano Vázquez, Ph.D., the CTO of ELEM Biotech, talks about the potential for advancing medicine and medical treatments via virtual humans.
Vázquez has had an active role with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center working with all types of researchers in the fields of engineering, mathematics, and computer science. Vázquez discusses his exciting company, ELEM Biotech, and explains how their simulations of systems within a human body offer intensive study and testing opportunities for advanced medical devices and pharmaceuticals, etc. Their work focuses on creating human systems for the development of everything from pacemakers to valve replacements, anti-arrhythmic drugs, treatments for asthma and obstructive pulmonary diseases, and beyond.
Vázquez talks about all that they can learn by working with simulations, and how it helps the testing to go further than before. He elaborates on their desire to link systems, such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Vázquez explains how they can use their simulated systems to strategically test devices in regard to how they work with males and females. This could help improve devices that are made for both sexes combined, because there may be differences between female and male systems.
Richard Jacobs: Hello this is Richard Jacobs with the future tech and future Tech health Podcast and I have Mariano Vazquez Co-founder and CTO of ElEM and the website is Elem.io. Thanks for coming. How are you doing?
Mariano: I am good thanks a lot for giving me this opportunity.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. So tell me your listeners about Elem bio. What’s the premise of the company?
Mariano: The company is based in Barcelona. We are a spinoff from the Barcelona supercomputing center. This supercomputing center is, hosting computer, which is called Marenostrum. We’ve been developing tools for, simulations of complex systems and one of the most complex systems that you can imagine is human body. so that’s why, well, I would say a year, well, less than a year ago, we have created this concept with the idea of transforming this our simulation, our research product in order to make these products to get closer today. Those that are really in need of the tar medical devices companies or Pharma industry or even doctors.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. So you’re trying to model various systems of the human body or what’s the focus?
Mariano: Yes, that’s correct. What we are doing, we perform simulations at organ level which means we are not doing any molecular, dynamic or genomics source or whatever. So what we are doing is mostly focused at the level of heart or the lungs or the liver. So we know in case we are mostly focused in the cardiovascular system and what we do is we create sort of avatars or humans and we create them in order to get, treatments like medical devices, devices Performa and things like that.
Richard Jacobs: Do you test it at the level of the Organ? What kinds of things do you incorporate into your model that makes it more effective than what’s currently out there? Do you even have any models for organ system?
Yeah if you think for instance heart, the heart is a physical system it’s a combination of electrical activity, mechanical action, the muscles that are contracted and these muscles are pumping block, so from our point of view, it a Multiphysics problem. So, there are 3 systems that are coupled. And so it’s a very complex, one. Each of the models is pretty complex. And if we coupled them. It’s not like triple, complexities more than that. So for doing these sorts of things, you need two things. First of all, a large computer and secondly software specifically written for run efficiently. So the main, difference of what we do with other academic groups or, companies that are doing similar things is that our model is comprehensive in the sense that we can solve the full hearts with all the, with all the features are required to these sort of things because we have a very accretion code that can run in these supercomputers. So the main difference that we have is this computation of resources in an efficient way.
Richard Jacobs: Well, I know from speaking to Dennis, noble was the whole, you know, the heart has an electrical system and the electrical part of it, not just the mechanical pumping part of it is all intertwined. So does your model of the heart, for instance, include all the electrical components of the signaling, you know the contractions and all that stuff?
Mariano: Yeah. This is a very, very interesting question. Especially because Dr. Dennis is one of the pioneers of this sort of modeling of the heart a long time ago. So Dr. Noble was the simulation, the first brick of the wall as he said, the electrical activity. So what we have done is a model for cellular electrical activity. So in our system, what we do is we, we flagged like at the bottom layer of the model, set a model which is this the set model is right now highly developed from that pioneering work. And on top of that we, we really built a huge building, which is the coupling between the electric and mechanical very complex can be also a very complex model. The material model of the tissue without the anatomical differences in sunny subtropics. So you have fibers that are, have some privileged direction, which is to contraction direction, the piece, the direction of the fibers. You have a very complex and an atomical feature, which is the fibers, you know, in the heart of the fibers are distributed in a very particular way, you know, but to make that something that it is contracted, like the fiber can be transformed in a pump, which is not that evidence if you think about it so all of these complexities are also in the model. So it is, again, as Dr. Nobel said, it’s an extremely complex.
Richard Jacobs: And how far along are you in your modeling and have you seen or been able to model effects that were previously invisible to you?
Mariano: You know, that it is something is very interesting because, you know, from the very beginning we’ve been working in very close relationship with doctors. So the doctors are those that are posting the questions myself by training. I am a physicist and being a physicist, I have the dangerous bias that can make me do things that are maybe not that useful. But they are very interesting and challenging. But not that useful. So in this case, the good point is that if you do something that is multi-disciplined and those that are staying in the range or the doctors, then you are sure that you are going in the proper direction doing something that is useful. So then, there is one very nice moment where the, because the doctors from the very beginning date, they struggle to understand what you do and you struggled to understand the length, their language.
And there is a fantastic moment where you discover in the doctor’s side that they really understand what you’re doing. And in our case it was kind of, I don’t know, maybe after six years of working with them, one day they teach us something and, and their face transforms in a way that, gosh, now I understand what you’re doing. I really understand what’s the use in doing these things. This is very rewarding and it’s a way of, seeing that you’re going in the proper direction.
Richard Jacobs: So where do you see the breakdown in communication? There is between the doctors and you’re the model makers, you know, what are they not understanding and what are you not understanding? Where do you see that you’re butting heads?
Mariano: Well this a very interesting question. Communication is very important, the good point is that there were people inside working that’s kind of bioengineers someone that some guys that can understand both sides. So they work like translators from one side. So I can read some books on physiology and see how different, how it was difficult, this model this problem but still I don’t understand for me to understand someone like me. So I understand where are they, where is the main difficulty in order to understand the problem or its more on an understanding of the problem that you need to completely change your perspective? So the good point in the basis for that, you need someone that can act as a translator. I’m well we’ve got the chance of becoming a very good one.
Richard Jacobs: What are some examples of things that you, roadblocks you run into when you’re modeling or breakthroughs that you’ve run into with your modeling? What things can we see now for the heart or the lungs that were previously?
Mariano: yeah, if you follow up the kind of our pathway. We taught it by, well we have some, and we have lots of experience in doing that should be from the very beginning we thought. So we didn’t have any experience in showing mechanics. So we said that it for the end and we had no experience and other. So we started by, so afterward we did something mechanics part. And after with the fluid mechanics. Is that how the, you know, there is one, one pacemaker that is called micro that by a large company with this pacemaker, it’s something that goes beyond the ventricle. It is not a need that goes through a Gotcha.
How the um, the piece of medicine, the ventricle rating is preserving those fluid mechanics around it and how these fluid mechanics around based, which means the glow inside your ventricles. Acting upon the piece of metal which goes beans in the wall. And I’d extend, is there any priest, the space message has got loose inside your system. And this is something that we kind of do. We can start to write down not something that we did study right now and without any comprehensive model as the one that we have going on, you simply cannot. This was kind of an amazing breakthrough. Right.
Richard Jacobs: Can you give a little more details on it? I’m not exactly clear on what, what you were able to figure out versus before. Maybe in layman’s terms.
Mariano: Yes. So this pacemaker is very sophisticated so let’s suppose you have a whole in your heart. I suppose that you have a sort of thing. So this pacemaker is something that is a smaller check kind of maybe two centimeter diameter that we’d have something that they call time. I was there to encore, the small cylinder inside your, heart. So he go through a catheter. So this doctor, those catheter, it gets into your heart and just simply touch the wall of your heart and these times are deployed and there are four of them and this time start the deploy that tested the Greeks. They, just get to stick to your, so your muscle, now he’s constructing because the ventricles is pumping.
It is moving strongly because it needs pumping. You can imagine that the, wall of the heart is moving along and if they are pumping the blood flow, all of the glove inside the ventricle, so this is the pacemaker that is uphold to the inner wall, work in a way that with a very sophisticated way, that gets beat to your wall, to the wall of the ventricles.
So all these forces like the contraction, the movement of the heart wall Fluid and the applause, clover rounded. You need to study, to be clear, to have a clear idea of the forces that that should be seen in.
Richard Jacobs: The one quick question, have you been able to run, okay, so your model is purely mathematical or they also visual where you can see different parts of the hardworking and zoom in on them and watch them?
Mariano: This is a very interesting question because the model is Mathematical. You know that the system is so complex in order to let the doctors, so they buy engineers to understand what’s going on. You need a very sophisticated piece, only section at least as good or bad depending how you see, as of the doctors when they deployed. But what, what we can do something much better that an MRI, I mean that’s the typical association off the doctors.
So each certification is something that is extremely important in this case. So our system is often go with the sophisticated, not just initialization system but initialization techniques.
So we are thinking that we are going to develop in the near future, you should use some kind of virtual reality in order to properly study with what’s going on inside. It seemed that it would be hard like this one.
Richard Jacobs: Well I think you’re missing out on a lot of information if you don’t have one. You know, you could run the heart for instance, extremely slowly and do a time lapse, the contraction phase and watch different parts of the heart and see the stress build up. And then you could have the, I don’t know, the other phrase is called with the relaxation phase and literally watch stresses move and change and build and less than, and I think that would probably give you a lot of information, you know, just as a start.
Mariano: Exactly. It’s due on it because on one hand you can do these very innovative kind of in slow motion but also in a very detailed way.
So you can zoom in, you can go down to a very small scale. You know that to see what’s going on. So under this life you can think that these sort of simulation tools are sort of a microscope, so you can stab the system from a very different way. I think they’re very different position like that. Like just observe we need through an MRI or a Taco or whatever. So you really can go very, very deeply in the system and as you, just perfectly understood like, I don’t know, like using its own. Yeah
Richard Jacobs: Okay. How far away are you from integrating to the heart and the lungs and visualize the heart beating and you know, the lung reacting, I’ll be all lie and all that. And I mean there’ll be like super sophisticated, but how far away is it?
Mariano: Very nice. Because you know, that we are working in mostly in cardiovascular, but there is, we’re looking in it also in respiratory system. So, and we have a very sophisticated model for the respiratory system and this is something the same question that we ask ourselves many times, how far are we to link and cardiovascular system with the respiratory system? And we think that’s what it depends on the resources developing. Let us suppose that we have the infinite money and we have good developers, I would say that we are two, three years, no more than that and I’m not selling a bit that you just asked anything. Something that come up to my mind right
now. No, no, no. It’s something that we’ve been thinking a lot as we’ve been advancing in both people from, and I think that with infinite resources I can do it. We can do it in a Capital peers.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. Why not go for educational grants and give this as a tool to people that are in medical school and other researchers and all that in addition to doctors in the clinic and everything. Maybe that would spread the cost of creating the system. They would also give insights to certain populations to see their insights.
Mariano: It’s definitely it accepted and then it’s something that we are, on because of we would like to do, we need to achieve certain development, especially for the graphical interface. When we reached a certain level of, of the graphical interface where people really can understand what we are doing. And when I mean level, I mean maybe six months or something like that, we will be in a position of, I’m doing exactly what you have set off, it’s for free given for free to medicine academia.
These tool in order for the students for, two reasons. One of kinds of strategic as you said, we are going to be an engineer, evangelizing the doctors of the simulation. So these sort of tools. But secondly, because if you’re talking to the doctors, what the doctors say, the stuff, we are so far of the complete understanding of what’s going on in the human body, any kind of tool that can help us to better understand what’s going on, it’s great. So we think that the two can be used just to help the doctors to understand what’s going on. So if you think in medical school, this is kind of the best place where to use these sort of things. So exactly where we are on that. Yeah.
Richard Jacobs: So you’re looking at modeling the heart, lungs and what else?
Mariano: We have a deletion and deletion is that in the future we can add more and more assistance. You know, the top of things you said you have two approaches. One approach would be to stop the simplest possible and then go up. But typically, or there are many cases in sense where you can do that. But there are there other possibilities, like you can go kind of in a deceptive way there’s active way or in a hypnotic way. So when we’re doing is like, it’s the other way around like saying we’re going to take systems and trying to shift to model them with its full complexity. So then, from there start to grow outwards. So we have the, we started by the heart. Now you’re not unique to couple the heart with the LPL system. So we have, one of the models for the theories and now we can cover both of them.
And the ideal system must be very well, its complex to great this model, but we can do it. So we can go down to the line because it is on the way. It’s something that we’re doing. We can go down to the last time, then it goes down still Veolia and then we can cover both of them. So it is kind of a different way of tackling the problem. So in our tackling the problem was like starting by the pieces and then trying to build up from the pieces when brilliant system that I was, I have in mind for the future because I’m not at all an expert far from being an expert. Is the liver, a sort of a chemical production plant that we have in our bodies.
So it’s a, it’s a chemical factory that we have there. So did you set up a very nice, that should be a very nice model. Very expensive, very complex, expensive in competition of that. So then I would like to also work on these, but else, I mean the, did the recent other things that we can do is to link cardiovascular and respiratory and this is the first link that, that we are looking for. Right!
Richard Jacobs: Well, one thing I could see you could do again is once you have a model of the heart or the lungs, you can change the parameters. You know, you can change the, the blood pressure or you can change the, the speed of the heart are all kinds of things or the rhythm of it and see the effects on the system to them cascade through it.
Mariano: Yes. Yes, exactly. Yes, you’re right. One thing that we can do also is to, well we can create the 35 population. We can create a synthetic, Schumann’s let’s say. We can say that. So we can have, imagine a Jew, but we could come produce a population of, you know, women, 50 years old, on the weekend because you know, when, when the pacemakers are pacemakers, they are a not pacemaker for men, they just make it for women. But the hearts are different so that we are using the same pace maker for both of the patient. Um, so when we can do is we have a generic pacemaker and we would like now to test the pacemaker population. We met populations within populations. So this is something that we can do right now. And he’s one of the last, one of the things that I were selling bunch, let’s say, that we can do with these sort of simulations to, so it’s like the possibilities are really fast.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. That’s excellent. So is there a way for people to see any of your models online or, you know, how could people interact with you or getting tugged us and find out more?
Mariano: Well when, let’s say simpler ways, just contact me through the webpage, if you go to the webpage right now It’s no more than a landing page. So we are some time ago we are preparing something much, much more informative with a blog and with the news because there are plenty of news all the time. By the way in what we’re doing and we are planning to have blogs and we are planning to have the ready for the next month in one month or two months, he’s going to be ready. And I think what we would like to do is such a project e a rising a lot of curiosity even from everyone.
So when we would like to do he also a webpage that can be, its source of information and if it had a very good point of contact to us, we are very communicative. So if I come, no problem, I’d be, so far I have no problem of receiving plenty of females and neither anyone from me, okay. So I think that the best way is to contacting us with the no problem since the tendinous he made.
Richard Jacobs: All right. That’s great. Well, I appreciate you coming on the podcast.
Mariano: It was really pretty, very nice and well, thanks a lot.
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