Scientists have developed a computational model to help better understand how the sexually-transmitted infection chlamydia spreads within a patient. It is hoped that the work led by Nottingham Trent University could in future help to shed light on potential new therapies and treatments for the condition.
Chlamydia is the world's most prevalent STI, with more than 100 million new cases globally every year.
The new software has been developed to bring mathematical modelling directly into laboratories - allowing clinicians and biologists across the globe to run simulations alongside on-going trials and reduce their dependence on animal experiments.
It uses mathematical equations to describe the spread of the infection through the tissue, incorporating a broad range of subcellular processes and immune system responses.
Sexually-transmitted infections often have severe reproductive health implications if treatment is delayed, or absent, particularly in females.
Disease progression is extremely complex, however, and obtaining clinical data from patients is highly invasive and impractical. This means the need to develop mathematical and computational modelling tools to improve understanding of the infection - and identify potential new therapies - is vital.
The simulation currently describes the spread of infection through the cervix and how vaccination could prevent the infection from reaching the fallopian tubes, leading to major reproductive consequences.
It is hoped that the models will be utilised by clinicians and biologists investigating the disease, who can in turn inform future model development based on their own findings.
The software, which runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS, has been developed so that it is easy to use - without knowledge of complex computational approaches - and able to incorporate a more diverse range of STIs, both bacterial and viral.
Lead scientist Dr Martin Nelson, who is based in Nottingham Trent University's School of Science and Technology, said: "The biological processes associated with the spread of infection within the genital tissue are complex, as they involve both replication of the infection within individual cells and the spread of the infection through the tissue as a whole.
"We are now in a position whereby mathematical models can be used to describe what we know about chlamydia and its progression in the body. The situation regarding chlamydia is severe, but with robust models in place, there is great scope for their adaptation and reuse to explore new therapies and treatments."
The study also involved the University of Nottingham, Imperial College London, Queensland University of Technology in Australia, Norwegian University of Science and Technology and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute.
The research is reported in the journal BMC Systems Biology.