British Association for the Advancement of Science: Computer helping fight against heart disease

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A COMPUTER that can mimic the complex chemistry of the heart could be helping scientists to design better drugs against heart disease within 10 years, writes Steve Connor.

Denis Noble, professor of physiology at Oxford University, told the association's annual meeting that a computer model that can mimic the part of the heart responsible for initiating a heart beat already existed .

'I'm confident that by the year 2000 we'll be able - in principle - to reconstruct the whole heart on computer,' he said.

Researchers are using computer models of the heart to understand what happens during abnormal contractions of the heart muscles, which can lead to a rapid, chaotic heart rhythm and even death.

Drug companies would use the information to design better drugs to control abnormal rhythms of the heart, Professor Noble told the meeting.

Two years ago, a study into heart drugs found that half of them were 'worse than useless' at controlling abnormal heart rhythms, he said. 'This told us that we didn't understand the problem well enough.'

A human heart programmed on to a computer, he added, 'will be an aid to thinking and help to determine whether we're really understanding a complex mechanism as well as we should.'