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Did you vaccinate your Digital Twin?

Could we use our digital copy, the digital twin, to try out a vaccine? Image credit: Vanessa Branchi

The Digital Transformation in the Healthcare sector is accelerating, also under the stress and pressure induced by the pandemic.

Digital Transformation in Healthcare comes in several ways:

  • automation of processes/activities by moving as much as possible to the cyberspace (including diagnostic, testing, monitoring)
  • Tele-whatever to support medical care from remote
  • drugs design
  • mirroring of resources in the cyberspace
  • monitoring of communities to detect weird phenomena that may raise a red flag (data analytics, insight)
  • mirroring of “people” in the cyberspace

Data are clearly the fabric supporting digital activities and all researchers leading to more accurate data harvest are crucial. In this lline we see the development of sensors, of smart materials that can support implants and wearables, of body area networks to connect body sensors to a gateway, sensors embedded in drugs, sensors in ambient and so on.

Clearly, gathering data is just the first step. The next one is to make sense of data, through spatial (correlating different data streams) and temporal correlation (analysing the evolution of a single data stream). Making sense of data often requires their contextualisation, that is having a model that can simulate the expected values and comparing those values against the real values detected (or derived).

This is where Digitall Twins come handy. They can be used to model a hospital, a process, a person. These latter are called Personal Digital Twins.

The creation of vaccines is becoming a software intensive endeavour. Researchers use computers to model viruses and computers to simulate countermeasures (the identification of proteins that can stop the virus in attacking a cell, in multiplying, in having side effects, the design and simulation of vectors…). Tests are run in vitro, then on animals and eventually on human volunteers.

A new wave of simulators is now arriving, based on labs on chips simulating organs (organ on a chip) and physiology. Additionally, researchers are now creating Digital Twins of people, based on their genome. metabolome and proteinome to simulate the effect of a drug on that specific person.

There are now over a hundred Covid-19 vaccines under development and many of these are in the testing phase with human volunteers. The expectation is that a few will succeed and it is likely that they will show different levels of effectiveness depending on broad classes of people (some might be better suited for elderly, other for people with certain pathologies…). Moving to a virtualised, digital, person could allow the tailoring of a vaccine (or at least the selection of one among those available) to a specific person.

Hence the idea of a near future where vaccines will first be “digitally injected” on my digital twin and based on the resulting simulation one will be chosen to inject physical self.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.


  1. Derrick de Kerckhove

    Great imaginative use of DT, but my question is wouldn’t this kind of digital duplication have to incredibly deep and thorough? Because I assume the whole body would have to be duplicated inside out (not to mention and the mental and emotional disposition). Is that possible already along with all the types of correlations entertained between the organs involved?

  2. I feel this is already in the realm of scientific possibility. Sure, it is partial, but big pharma is already using a lot of modelling and simulation in the design of vaccines. The current mRNA vaccine for Covid-19 has been created making use of digital modelling of cells, and vectors. Organs on a chip are a reality and will become more and more sophisticated and accurate in the coming years.
    The monitoring of vaccines effectiveness will also be used on a sort of Digital Twin llike modeling….
    So it is not a black and white, you do not need to have the perfect Digital Twin.