EMORY (US) — “The love between math and medicine goes back a long time,” says mathematician Alessandro Veneziani. Recent advances in computer imaging have brought the two even closer.
“My dream is that medical simulation will become part of the daily routine of medical doctors,” says Veneziani.
His lab at Emory University uses math and computer simulations to investigate blood dynamics, and support physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
“Blood flow problems are really difficult, so we need sophisticated mathematics to solve them,” Veneziani says. “Like weather forecasting, which is also based on mathematical models of fluid dynamics, we are creating models to forecast outcomes for patients.”
The work has helped improve the odds for babies with a heart defect known as left-ventricle hypoplasia. Through computer simulation, surgeons can now predict the optimal size and placement of the artificial aorta needed to keep a newborn alive while awaiting a heart transplant.
A recent grant from the Brain Aneurysm Foundation is supporting Veneziani’s research into the tears in neural blood vessels that create balloon-like bulges. Using complex equations to predict the likelihood of rupture in aneurysms could help doctors determine whether to operate, or forego the risky surgery and simply monitor the patient.
The mathematical engineers in Veneziani’s lab work closely with physicians to develop the cardiovascular models. Some of the problems they are working on include bicuspid aortic valve defects in newborns, atherosclerosis, and ventricular dissynchrony.
The process begins with differential equations to describe the blood dynamics. Medical images from individual patients are then pixelated into geometric representations. Finally, computer software is used to simulate the flood flow, and all of the data is merged.
“Now we are providing the medical doctors not just an image, the situation at a given instant, but a dynamical image, including the simulation of blood inside,” Veneziani says. “We can compute the stress of the blood on an arterial wall and a lot of relative indexes for providing the medical doctors with a better picture of the situation.”
The image processing software used in the process—the Vascular Modeling ToolKit and the simulation software LifeV—are open-source, available free for download.
“We want other researchers to use the software to solve blood flow problems, and to give us feedback, so we can keep refining and improving the code,” Veneziani says.
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