Mar 18, 2016 | By Benedict

Researchers from Duke University, North Carolina, have used an advanced supercomputer to create an extremely realistic simulation of blood flow within the human body. A 3D printed replica of an aorta was used to test the accuracy of the virtual model.

When treating cardiovascular diseases, the use of stents and other surgical modifications can be absolutely vital for ensuring the health of a patient. However, effective as they can be, invasive techniques such as these come with their drawbacks. The side effects of medical stents can include blood clotting, bruising, and other complications, and these are just the ones we know about: medical professionals are often unable to completely and accurately predict the full range of potential side effects for new treatments.

That’s where the virtual blood flow model, kept in check by the 3D printed aorta, comes into play. The researchers believe that an accurate virtual representation of human blood flow will enable medical professionals to predict the potential side effects of potential treatments, resulting in safer, more patient-friendly methods of combating cardiovascular diseases. Users will be able to change the mesh file of the simulation, which representing a patient’s vasculature, to represent different treatment options. The virtual model has been named “Harvey” as an homage to 17th century physician William Harvey, the first man to discover that blood is pumped around the body in a loop.

The research team, led by Amanda Randles, developed software which represents every artery 1mm in diameter or wider at a resolution of 9 microns. The team was able to precisely replicate the pulsating flow of blood within the body, with the accuracy of the simulation demonstrated by the close similarity between the virtual model and its 3D printed sibling. "We're getting extremely close results both in the steady flow and the pulsatile, which is very exciting," Randles told the BBC.

To obtain the 3D data for the virtual model, Randles and her team used CT scans and MRI scans of a single person to obtain a full-body 3D scan. ”It’s not a common practice," Randles admitted. "But if we have it, then we can extract the arterial network. We get a surface mesh representing the vessel geometry, then we decide what's a fluid node and what's a wall node, and then model fluid flow through there.”

Due to the sheer volume of data required to accurately replicate blood flow, special computational power was required. That power was provided by one of the world’s 10 most powerful supercomputers, housed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The machine, which packs 1.6 million processors, is able to handle the full-body arterial model without lag. Most previous simulations have focused on smaller sections of the circulatory system due to processing limitations.

To ensure that the software’s virtual blood flow accurately portrayed that of the real human arterial system, Randles enlisted the help of David Frakes, an engineer at Arizona State University and medical 3D printing expert, who was able to create the 3D printed model of an aorta—from the same scans which were used to create the virtual model. Fluid could then be pumped through the plastic 3D printed aorta, with its flow tracked with visible shiny particles.

The researchers’ findings regarding the virtual model, including the comparison with the 3D printed likeness, were presented at the American Physical Society's March Meeting in Baltimore. The team is now working on a virtual model of the same patient’s veins, which they can then link to the arterial model.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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