Simulating the human body

Coupled Problems in Biomechanics and Systems Biology

Using tools and methods from systems biology and biomechanical simulations, we are developing a prototypical model of the human body to help improve human health through a better understanding of the human body in all its complexity.

Models of the human body.

Our vision

For millennia, humans have sought to increase their knowledge and understanding of the human body. For much of that time, researchers have explored our complex bodily structures and functions with (bio-) physical experiments, but,  today, simulation technologies offer totally new possibilities in this quest. The use of simulation technologies is indicated particularly when ethical reasons obviate experimentation on living bodies. It is against this background that SimTech’s ambitious vision of developing a prototypical model of the human body has taken shape.

Toolkit for an overall human model

To create an overall human model, in Project Network 4 (PN 4) we are developing new conceptual methods and elaborate computer models. Compiled models of different body parts from micro- to macroscale are integrated in a toolkit that from then on will allow connecting them for specific purposes. Such mathematical partial models range from small units in the biomolecular field to large-scale mechanical fields in biology. To achieve this, we couple methodological approaches in biomechanics, biological continuum mechanics, systems biology and biochemical molecular dynamics. In PN 4, the focus is on two key issues: in systems biology, the problem of how tumors grow and shrink and, two, in biomechanics, how to model the dynamics of musculoskeletal systems.

Studying how tumors grow and shrink

Systems biology is a relatively young research field that combines biology, systems theory and simulation technologies. It treats the human being as a complex biological system made up of interacting networks. These network structures and dynamics determine our “human” system’s characteristic behavior. Systems biology uses so-called in silico experiments – i.e., model-based computer simulations. Not only are they significantly cheaper and faster to run than in vivo or in vitro experiments in the laboratory, but they also provide reproducible results. Analyzing such models contributes to improving biotechnological therapeutics like those used in molecular cancer therapies.

To better understand how tumors grow, we analyze processes at disparate scales. These range from misdirected regulatory mechanisms in single tumor cells to the growth and spreading of brain tumors. Systems biologists and experts in biomechanics contribute to this multiscale view. which is one of PN 4’s distinctive attributes.  

Exploring the human musculoskeletal system

Biomechanical simulations, on the other hand, help to explore stresses on the human body. The seemingly trivial act of just simply picking up a coffee cup, for example, is really a masterwork in disguise. Even a minimal body movement like this involves the complex interplay of the body’s physical and biochemical properties. In a larger sense, this applies to every goal-oriented motion in space that results in a change of location, speed, or acceleration by applying a force.

In PN 4, researchers can study such processes in isolation from other processes by seeking to simulate with extreme precision the mechanisms which are involved in human movement. They thus analyze

  • biochemical processes on a cellular level,
  • mechanical characteristics of individual muscles, and
  • the interaction of several muscles within a system.

Findings in systems biology and biomechanics based on models are especially applicable to the medical field for optimizing patient treatment. Thus, they may lead to new surgical procedures, such as injecting medulla into the dorsals to regenerate spine function. Or, in addition to precisely simulating crashes, they can lead to applications and tools for the use of biomechanical avatars. In addition, findings from systems biology can also help optimize biotechnological processes.


SimWalk - a simulation framework and testbed for digital human walking
Project Coordinator: JP Dr. Syn Schmitt
Resarch Associate: Maria Hammer
Institute of Sport and Movement Science

Modelling of skeletal muscle atrophy and growth
Project Coordinator: Prof. Oliver Röhrle, Ph. D.
Resarch Associate: Ekin Altan
Institute of Applied Mechanics

Regulation mechanisms of DLC-1 and their role in tumour cell migration
Project Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Nicole Radde, Prof. Dr. Monilola Olayioye
Resarch Associate: Antje Jensch
Institute for Systems Theory and Automatic Control, Institute of Cell Biology and Immunology

TRAIL resistance in a 3D tumour model
Project Coordinator: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Frank Allgöwer
Resarch Associate: Simon Niederländer
Institute for Systems Theory and Automatic Control

TRAIL resistance in a 3D tumour model
Project Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Peter Scheurich
Resarch Associate: Daniela Stöhr
Institute of Cell Biology and Immunology

Modelling of vascular networks embedded in bio-tissues

Project Coordinator: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rainer Helmig, Apl. Prof. Dr. Bernd Flemisch
Resarch Associate: Dr. Tobias Koeppl, Timo Koch
Institute of Hydraulic Engineering

Tumour growth and atrophy of lung cancer metastases in the brain

Project Coordinator: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Ehlers, Dr.-Ing. Arndt Wagner
Resarch Associate: Patrick Schröder
Institute of Applied Mechanics

  • Mathematics
  • Biomechanics
  • Engineering
  • Biology

Coordinators PN 4

Dieses Bild zeigt Ehlers
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h. c.

Wolfgang Ehlers

Spokesperson, Executive Director, Coordinator Project Network 4, Coordinator Research Area B

Dieses Bild zeigt Radde
Prof. Dr. rer. nat.

Nicole Radde

Coordinator Project Network 4

Dieses Bild zeigt Röhrle
Prof. PhD

Oliver Röhrle

Professor for Continuum Biomechanics and Mechanobiology, Coordinator Project Network 4