Cutting edge aircraft engineering and pulmonary medicine might seem to have as much in common as chalk and cheese, but they both involve air flow dynamics, and scientists at the University of Cincinnati are researching the use of computer simulations developed for aircraft design to improve treatment of human airways in a variety of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, sleep apnea and snoring. A UC release reports that a more accurate and successful, yet complex approach used in designing an airplane is now taking off in the health care industry. The end result is helping patients with pulmonary disorders breathe easier, and their surgeons in considering novel treatment approaches.
Goutham Mylavarapu a senior research associate in the University of Cincinnati Department of Aerospace Engineering, and Ephraim Gutmark, PhD,, Ohio Eminent Scholar and UC distinguished professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, presented their research involving Computational Fluid Dynamics at the 39th American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Dayton-Cincinnati Aerospace Sciences Symposium held on March 5 in Dayton, Ohio.
[Photo caption: Goutham Mylavarapu, left, and Ephraim Gutmark - Image credit: Jay Yocis]
Computational Fluid Dynamics, or CFD, uses computer algorithms to solve the flow of air or fluids for various applications. These algorithms are typically applied in aircraft design where CFD is often considered both an accurate and less expensive means of testing theories prior to investing in building physical models and testing in air tunnels.
However, over the past decade or so, CFD has also been applied to biological flows in the study of certain medically-related problems, including respiratory disorders like cystic fibrosis, and has gained a great deal of interest. Computer simulations originally developed in the field of aircraft design are finding new use in treating health conditions such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, sleep apnea and snoring.
The human respiratory tract is a pathway of hard and soft structures that take in and push out airflow. Dr. Mylavarapu explains that several pulmonary upper airway disorders are associated with vibration and/or deformation of the soft structures around the airway, leading to partial or complete collapse of the airway, as in the case of sleep apnea. In more severe cases, these airway obstructions or deformations can significantly impact quality of life and can even lead to death.
The researchers are using CFD simulations crossed over from the aerospace industry on actual medical data from patients with breathing disorders. Applying the equations to analyze the information being sought in an MRI can provide surgeons with a better idea on how to treat the problem, increasing the potential success of any surgical approach as well as reducing the number of surgeries (therefore a better recovery and less of a medical expense) for the patient.
“Historically, the evaluation of a patient’s airway is limited to clinical diagnosis with medical imaging,” explains Dr. Mylavarapu. “But the variability and complexity in the airway anatomy can limit the success rate of surgery. CFD provides a better understanding of respiratory flow and enables individualized treatment when applied to what we’re seeing with medical imaging.”
“Surgery is sometimes based on experience-based intuition, and it’s not always guaranteed that the end result will be effective,” says Dr. Gutmark. “CFD is another tool to provide surgeons with more quantitative information about the possible outcome during the planning of a surgical procedure.”
Last year, Dr. Gutmark was recognized for his outstanding contributions to physics with the award of an American Physical Society (APS) Fellowship — a designation limited to no more than one half of one percent of the APS membership and therefore a distinct honor signifying recognition by one’s professional peers.
According to APS, Dr. Gutmark’s “pioneering contributions to the fundamental flow physics of noise, combustion, and propulsion, and the development of flow control methodologies to achieve quiet aircraft engines, clean, stable and efficient combustion, and innovative propulsion systems” earned him the honor of fellowship in the society.
Spanning 30 years, Dr. Gutmark’s research and development of innovative fluid engineering applications have impacted diverse technical areas including turbomachinery for power generation and automotive turbochargers, aerodynamic flight control, and biomedical applications, among others. Since joining UC, Dr. Gutmark has been instrumental in generating over 30 new research projects in a range of interdisciplinary topics with a budget of over $27 million.
Dr. Gutmark credits UC for steadily backing his research efforts. “I get a lot of good support from UC,” he commented in a release. “From the beginning, I was given a nice space to develop my lab and the basic infrastructure to start activities was here so that really helped a lot to develop my ideas.”
During the last five years, Dr. Gutmark has also been working in collaboration with the UC Medical School and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on researching new and innovative uses for fluid dynamics in biomedical applications. “We use fluid dynamics to understand the formation in voice and how to treat disorders of voice,” he observes.
Dr. Gutmark’s project with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital studies children with Down syndrome who suffer from sleep apnea. “We are looking to understand what leads to sleep apnea, how to prevent it or better treat it and how to help physicians to make good decisions on the treatment,” he says, noting that the common denominator of all of these activities is the application of fluid dynamics. “I see a lot of potential for growth and for more activities in the future,” he observes. Dr. Gutmark is optimistic that the physics disciplines of fluid dynamics will result in a stream of new techniques, procedures and aids to improve these medical treatments, noting that “Surgery is sometimes based on experience-based intuition, and it’s not always guaranteed that the end result will be effective. CFD is another tool to provide surgeons with more quantitative information about the possible outcome during the planning of a surgical procedure.”
The researchers are using CFD to examine both the flow and structure equations of the respiratory challenges of individual patients. They also applied the method to a virtual surgery involving a medical case in Sweden, leading to a successful outcome for the patient.
The research, conducted in UC’s Gas Dynamics and Propulsion Lab, is a partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the UC Medical Center, and is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH #1R01HL105206-01).
Dr. Gutmark’s name and APS fellowship citation were published in the March 2013 issue of APS News for his pioneering contributions to the fundamental flow physics of noise, combustion, and propulsion, and the development of flow control methodologies to achieve quiet aircraft engines, clean, stable and efficient combustion, and innovative propulsion systems, nominated by the Division of Fluid Dynamics
The AIAA Dayton-Cincinnati Aerospace Sciences Symposium showcases cutting-edge aerospace research in the region and covers all general areas of aerospace science and technology. The event is organized and sponsored by the executive council of the AIAA Dayton-Cincinnati section and is sponsored by several organizations including the University of Cincinnati.
UC’s aerospace program is recognized by the Ohio Board of Regents as an Ohio Center of Excellence in Aerospace for its contributions to research and to the state’s economy. UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science is a leader in engineering education, research and innovation, and is the world founder of cooperative education.
Sources: University of Cincinnati
Photo credits: University of Cincinnati – Jay Yocis