Sheffield team to create a ‘digital twin’ of the human heart

  • Researchers from the University of Sheffield to help develop the world’s first ‘digital twin’ of the human cardiovascular system
  • A research consortium will use the latest in sensing technologies and machine learning to provide real-time insights and transform how doctors identify those at high-risk of heart disease, and how current patients are treated
  • In the UK 7.4 million people are living with a heart or circulatory disease, which remain a leading cause of death globally
  • The project has been announced today as one of the finalists of the British Heart Foundation’s Big Beat Challenge, which aims to inspire the development of new solutions to tackle heart disease

A ‘digital twin’ of the human cardiovascular system will be developed for the first time by researchers at the University of Sheffield.

The ambitious project aims to transform how doctors diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease, giving patients real-time support to monitor their health alongside care from their doctor.

The ‘Enhancing Cardiac Care Through Extensive Sensing’ (ECHOES) project will bring together international academic and industrial partners, to develop accessible wearable technology that can be used to capture the experiences, symptoms and cardiovascular data of an individual during their daily life.

The University of Sheffield is a major partner in the research consortium of experts in cardiovascular medicine, science, engineering and computer science, that will develop this next generation health technology.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques will analyse the data alongside genetic and healthcare data, creating a digital twin of a patient’s heart to transform the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of heart and circulatory diseases; leading to better patient outcomes and more effective treatment.

ECHOES was announced today as one of the four shortlisted international research projects competing for a single £30 million funding award from the British Heart Foundation’s Big Beat Challenge; a global initiative to galvanise researchers and inspire the development of transformational solutions to tackle the world’s biggest killer.

ECHOES was chosen as a finalist due to its ‘radical’ approach to cardiovascular research and the clear benefit it could bring to patients.

Professor Tim Chico from the University of Sheffield is the UK co-ordinator of the ECHOES consortium. He said: “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) often suffers from low rates of first time diagnosis, resulting in repeated hospital tests, appointments and delays to getting patients on the right treatment pathway.

“A digital twin that works in real-time alongside a patient - changing and aging with them - will provide a wealth of valuable information to assist doctors in diagnosing heart disease as early as possible.

“It may also be able to identify changes that haven’t yet caused any symptoms or signs, providing vital clinical information that can sometimes be missing from a patient’s medical history.

“Using pioneering technology and techniques we can view the cardiovascular system much like an engineer would a manufacturing system; to analyse and manage the conditions that will allow it to function at optimum levels for the patient for as long as possible.”

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The Big Beat Challenge embodies our ambition to turbo-charge progress and could lead to its own ‘man on the moon’ moment for heart and circulatory diseases, which remain the number one cause of death worldwide.

“This is high-risk, high-reward research. We whole-heartedly believe in the transformational potential of the Big Beat Challenge to save and improve lives, both here in the UK and around the world. It represents the single biggest investment in pioneering science in the BHF’s 60-year history. In an ideal world, we’d like to fund all four as each one has the chance to make a monumental impact.”

Professor of Translational Cardiopulmonary Science from the University of Sheffield, Allan Lawrie, will also be working with the ECHOES team. He added: “In Sheffield we have a long history of innovation within cardiac research, contributing to many breakthroughs and ‘firsts’ in treatment for a number of different cardiac conditions.

“ECHOES and the Big Beat Challenge is a once in a lifetime opportunity to collaborate with our international partners to keep people healthier for longer, and effectively treat what remains one of the world's leading causes of death.”

Study with the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease

Additional information

  • About the Big Beat Challenge
    The Big Beat Challenge is a unique research funding award of £30m that has brought together world-leading researchers and innovators to look beyond incremental gains and accelerate breakthroughs in heart and circulatory disease that could transform lives across the globe. The shortlisted teams are international and multidisciplinary, with experts from countries across the world spanning the domains of academia, industry and technology.
    Find out more at
  • British Heart Foundation
    With donations from the public, the BHF funds ground-breaking research that will get us closer than ever to a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases. A world where broken hearts are mended, where more people survive a heart attack, where the number of people prematurely dying from or disabled by a stroke is slashed in half. A world where people affected by heart and circulatory diseases get the support they need. And a world of cures and treatments we can’t even imagine today. We are backing the best ideas, the brightest minds and the biggest ambitions - because that’s how we’ll beat heartbreak forever.
    Find out more at

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


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Rebecca Ferguson
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