UCF researchers use engineering expertise to solve heart problems
UCF engineers do more than develop innovative space technology or reinvent the next generation of wind turbines – they also solve heart problems.
Several mechanical and aerospace engineers at UCF focus their expertise on finding creative solutions to various heart diseases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, with one person dying every 36 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s gratifying to work on such interesting problems at the interface of engineering and medicine with the specific goal of improving the quality of life,” says Alain Kassab, professor and director of the biomedical engineering program at the UCF.
Eliminating the Defects of Pediatric Open-Heart Surgery
When children are born with a defective ventricle, they typically undergo a series of three surgeries to reconfigure the heart and circulatory system. During the final procedure, a new system known as the Fontan circulation is established. This allows blood returning from the body to flow directly to the lungs without passing through the heart, while the single functional ventricle pumps blood back to the body.
Children usually undergo the Fontan procedure between 1 and 3 years old. While this may help them survive infancy, it does not guarantee they will live long.
“A substantial proportion of patients with Fontan circulation do not do well because they have removed the pumping right ventricle from the pulmonary or ‘Fontan’ side of the circulation,” says Kassab. “Although this surgical treatment began almost 30 years ago, the mortality rate is still high, with almost half of patients not surviving beyond 20 years.”
“Doctors believe that a significant proportion of patients with Fontan’s circulation do not do well because the pumping right ventricle has been removed from the pulmonary side of the circulation,” says Kassab. “Although Fontan’s first operation was performed almost 50 years ago, the mortality rate is still high, with nearly half of patients not surviving beyond 20 years.”
To ameliorate the defects created by Fontan’s circulation, Kassab is collaborating with a team of multidisciplinary researchers to develop a self-powered injection jet shunt that uses the heart’s own energy to alleviate the pressure increase caused by the circulatory system. redirected.
The team – which includes William DeCampli, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital and professor of surgery at UCF College of Medicine; Ray Prather ’13 ’15MS ’18PhD, senior research associate at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital; and Eduardo Divo ’98PhDchair of the mechanical engineering department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Engineering – started this project in 2015. Together they have secured over $700,000 in grants from the American Heart Association, Children’s Heart Foundation, and Additional Ventures , a non-profit organization. which supports research into single ventricular heart defects.
“Our close collaboration with Dr. DeCampli and Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital is key to effectively solving such a complex multidisciplinary problem,” says Kassab. “Each member of the team brings key expertise to bear on the critical aspects of the physics and physiology of the problem.”
The latest research data has been published in Scientific reports February 9.
Heart failure monitoring by sound
Patients who have been diagnosed with heart failure may be able to monitor their heart health using a credit card-sized device in the near future. This innovative, non-invasive heart monitor will use acoustic technology to monitor deterioration of heart function, which could reduce the need for patient hospitalization and even prevent death.
Associate Professor Hansen Mansy, who directs the Biomedical Acoustics Research Laboratory, is developing this device in collaboration with Richard Sandler of UCF College of Medicine. The couple received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2017 to carry out the project.
The device is designed for use by patients, but it will provide important data to doctors who can determine if further medical intervention is needed. Patients will place the small device on their chest and a sensor will detect chest vibrations caused by their heart activity. This recorded activity can then be downloaded to a mobile phone or computer and sent daily to doctors via a secure patient portal.
Doctors can use the data to determine if a patient’s heart health is deteriorating. If so, they can put in place a more effective treatment plan that can prevent hospitalization and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Mansy and his research team have already begun clinical testing on the device.
“Although clinical testing has been slowed due to COVID-19, early results are encouraging and suggest that early detection of the need for hospital readmission may be feasible using our proposed methods,” says Mansy.
The team used advanced signal processing methods to measure the heart’s electromechanical signals. The characteristics of these signals are extracted and the data is put into a machine learning algorithm that builds the model capable of predicting the deterioration of heart function.
Mansy and Sandler are collaborating with AdventHealth and the Biomedical Acoustics Research Company on the project. Mansy says next steps for the team include further analysis and additional clinical testing.
Create faster and more accurate diagnoses
In the Computational Biomechanics Laboratory, Assistant Professor Luigi Perotti and his team are using computer modeling to develop a new, non-invasive method of detecting biomarkers of cardiac deformity, which could lead to faster and more accurate diagnoses of heart disease .
“One of our main goals is to analyze imaging data to determine biomarkers of heart health,” says Perotti. “These biomarkers could then be extracted from patient-specific data and indicate the onset or progression of heart disease.”
By using patient data already available in the clinic rather than data acquired through research, Perotti says doctors can diagnose their patients much faster. He thinks their diagnoses can also be made more accurate by using aggregated strains of cardiomyocytes — made up of the cells responsible for the heart contracting and pumping blood through the circulatory system — as biomarkers of heart health.
Perotti is collaborating on this project with researchers from Stanford University and the University of Lyon.
How Biomechanical Forces Influence Heart Disease
While his colleagues search for solutions to the problems caused by heart disease, Assistant Professor Robert Steward uses his engineering expertise to explore the problems that cause heart disease.
With the support of a $738,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Steward has spent the past five years studying the biomechanical forces that can influence the early stages of the heart disease known as atherosclerosis. This stage is characterized by an excessive accumulation of white blood cells and bad cholesterol in the arteries. Steward discovered that blood flow induces mechanical stress that allows white blood cells to enter weak areas of the heart.
“Discoveries from this work have the potential to lead to novel mechanics-based therapies for cardiovascular disease,” Steward says.
Steward collaborated with Sampath Parthasarathy of UCF College of Medicine on the project, which officially ends in May. He plans to publish the results in an academic journal in the coming months.
In the meantime, Steward will use his CAREER grant, sponsored by the US National Science Foundation, to pick up where the NIH project left off. He was one of five UCF scholars to receive the award last year.
He says the NSF project will focus on the basic science of how biomechanical forces influence the endothelium, a group of cells that line the body’s blood vessels, including arteries. With this knowledge, better therapies for heart disease could be developed, or the disease could potentially be eliminated.
Over the past few months, Steward and his cellular biomechanics lab have explored using machine learning algorithms to predict endothelial biomechanical response, but he says further refinements are needed for this part of the project.
About the researchers
Kassab joined UCF in 1991 and has received numerous awards and honors since then, including the titles of Professor Pegasus and UCF Trustee Chair. His research spans multiple disciplines in computational heat transfer and fluid dynamics, inverse problems, boundary elements, and meshless methods. It was funded by the American Heart Association, Orlando Health, Siemens, US National Science Foundation, and NASA, to name a few. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering science and his master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering, all from the University of Florida. He is also a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.
Mansy obtained his doctorate. at the Illinois Institute of Technology and bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt. He was an associate professor of bioengineering at Rush Medical College before joining UCF. He has been developing vibro-acoustic medical technologies for 20 years with continued support from the National Institutes of Health. He supervised bioengineering student projects at Rush Medical College, University of Illinois at Chicago, and UCF and developed bioinstrumentation and mechanical and aerospace engineering measurement laboratory facilities. at UCF and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Perotti received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Politecnico di Milano in Italy and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the California Institute of Technology. He was an America Heart Association postdoctoral fellow at UCLA and in 2017 he received an NIH K25 Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award to continue his research on combining computational models with MRI data and conduct preclinical studies. . He joined UCF as an assistant professor in 2019.
Steward joined UCF as an assistant professor in 2015. He previously served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, where he studied the influence of fluid shear stress on endothelial biomechanics. He received his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University and his bachelor’s degree from Clark University in Atlanta. Steward currently directs the Cellular Biomechanics Laboratory located on the UCF Health Sciences Campus at Lake Nona, where he has several projects with the ultimate goal of linking mechanics and medicine.
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