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eISSN: 1643-3750

Health, ‘small-worlds’, fractals and complex networks: an emerging field

W. Alan C. Mutch, Gerald R. Lefevre

Med Sci Monit 2003; 9(5): MT55-59

ID: 869716

Available online: 2003-05-02

Published: 2003-05-02

The importance of ‘small-worlds’, fractals and complex networks to medicine are discussed. The interrelationship between the concepts is highlighted. ‘Small-worlds’ – where large populations are linked at the level of the individual have considerable importance for understanding disease transmission. Complex networks where linkages are based on the concept ‘the rich get richer’ are fundamental in the medical sciences – from enzymatic interactions at the subcellular level to social interactions such as sexual liaisons. Mathematically ‘the rich get richer’ can be modeled as a power law. Fractal architecture and time sequences can also be modeled by power laws and are ubiquitous in nature with many important examples in medicine. The potential of fractal life support – the return of physiological time sequences to devices such as mechanical ventilators and cardiopulmonary bypass pumps – is presented in the context of a failing complex network. Experimental work suggests that using fractal time sequences improves support of failing organs. Medicine, as a science has much to gain by embracing the interrelated concepts of ‘small-worlds’, fractals and complex networks. By so doing, medicine will move from the historical reductionist approach toward a more holistic one.

Keywords: complex networks, Fractals, percolation, power laws, residual dispersion, ‘small-worlds’