This section of the opening screen of the online app THYROSIM depicts the mathematical model imbedded in this simulator, which visualizes thyroid-hormone responses over time, following user-specified oral and other thyroid-hormone treatments. Image: Courtesy of Dr. Joseph DiStefano III
UCLA researchers have developed a software program that simulates the response of the human thyroid hormone-regulation system to a variety of treatments and diseases. The open-source program, THYROSIM, can be used by clinicians, researchers and educators to accurately gauge the impacts of thyroid treatments and develop more effective remedies for thyroid problems.
Joseph DiStefano III, PhD, distinguished professor of computer science and medicine and chair of the UCLA Computational and Systems Biology Interdepartmental Program, developed the technology based on 50 years of research with his students. “THYROSIM offers an easy-to-use interface for a sophisticated, mathematical model of the short-term and long-term impact of thyroid diseases, treatments, hormone supplements and other interventions,” Dr. DiStefano says. “This will benefit clinical and research endocrinologists and teachers, and it could result in positive changes in the use or regulation of available remedies.”
The thyroid gland, located in the front of the neck, is the largest regulator of hormones in the human body. Thyroid hormones control growth, development and metabolism. Maladies associated with abnormal thyroid function include hypothyroidism, or underproduction of hormones; hyperthyroidism, or overproduction of hormones; Graves’ disease, an autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism; and thyroid cancer.
The THYROSIM program works on all common browsers. Researchers and clinicians can enter data — on shifts in the body’s hormonal production or absorption rates or changes in the dosages of hormone treatments — with the user-friendly, animated interface. THYROSIM software, which relies on a mathematical model based on comprehensive clinical data, then simulates likely responses.
The system can examine multiple sets of data at the same time for comparative analysis. It can also project the long-term impacts — up to 100 days — of individual treatment programs. Because THYROSIM is open source, researchers can adapt it for their own projects. In testing the system, researchers analyzed the impact of several over-the- counter thyroid supplements. Their findings suggest that the use of some of these products could increase the presence of hormones in blood to toxic levels — potentially causing serious harm.
“Components of THYROSIM are distributed over two computers: the client-user machine accessible via a web browser and a remote server at UCLA where the simulation computations are run,” says Simon Han, a former graduate-student researcher in Dr. DiStefano’s lab who is now a doctoral candidate in bioengineering and radiology at UCLA. “By making the open-source software fully accessible, we hope to encourage others to improve it or expand its use.”
“THYROSIM App for Education and Research Predicts Potential Health Risks of Over-the-counter Thyroid Supplements,” Thyroid, April 20, 2016