Cardiovascular flow disturbances study aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment

March 15, 2006

Blacksburg, Va. -- Advancing the understanding of cardiovascular flows in order to improve the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease is the goal of Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher Pavlos Vlachos, who has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award to support his study.

Vlachos, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, recently secured the five-year CAREER grant, which is worth more than $400,000 and is the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award for creative junior faculty who are considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.

"Cardiovascular disease has historically been the leading cause of death in the U.S. and accounts for about one-third of all deaths worldwide," Vlachos said. "However, cardiovascular flows are not well understood. To improve disease diagnostic tools and treatments for heart disease, we need to understand the physics of blood flow through the body."

As the heart pumps blood through the arteries and veins of the cardiovascular system, it transfers nutrients and oxygen to all of the body's tissues and organs, Vlachos explained. "The arteries and vessels in this large network are short, curved, flexible pipes with many branches that deform as pressure increases during each heartbeat."

The curvature, branching, flexibility and pressure pulse characteristics of these "pipes" result in a complex environment where flow disturbances can lead to the formation of plaque and arterial stenosis, or narrowing.

Vlachos will construct experimental models of the cardiovascular system through which fluids can be pumped. Using advanced optical imaging tools that will perform tens of thousands of measurements simultaneously across the arterial models, he hopes to discover how flow disturbances influence a variety of cardiovascular disease conditions.

"Another focus of this project is determining how stent implants affect arterial flow dynamics," Vlachos said. "Identifying the flow-related causes of implant failure could lead to design improvements for stents."

Each CAREER project includes an educational component. Vlachos plans to develop educational models based on engineering "icons" -- tangible, everyday examples of engineering practice -- for use in demonstrating fundamental engineering principles to students from middle school through college.

Vlachos joined the Virginia Tech mechanical engineering faculty in 2003 after spending three years as a visiting assistant professor and research assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics at the university. He also is on the faculty of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Vlachos received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the National University of Athens, Greece and completed his master's and doctorate in engineering mechanics at Virginia Tech.
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Virginia Tech

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