A talk by Dr Jennifer Tweedy (Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London)
The human body is full of fluid – not just blood, urine and the humours in the eye, but also the tissue fluid surrounding every organ and every cell. It is therefore helpful to be able to model this using our understanding of forces and the basic properties of matter: this is the study of fluid dynamics. For example, the flow of blood in the arteries is similar to the flow of water through pipes – except that the pipes are stretchy and flexible. This is one way to combine engineering with biology – hence ‘bioengineering’.
For example, when we look at blood flow, we can gain some important insights into cardiovascular disease. The way that plaques build up in blood vessels – on the insides of bends and at bifurcations – can be explained with fluid dynamics. This also helps to guide the development of clinical solutions: for example, an arterial stent in the shape of a corkscrew has been developed, which makes the flow more uniform. When looking at arterial flow in the body as a whole, a 55-artery model based on simple fluid dynamical principles has led to a remarkable amount of insight, and this helps to confirm the usefulness of this approach.
Meanwhile, in the eye, fluid dynamic considerations help to explain conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and macular degeneration. For example, currently many clinicians believe that detachment of the retina at the back of the eye happen due to particular fluid currents in the eye. A current goal of our research is therefore to ascertain whether or not this is a realistic model – and thus to be able to develop a much more complete understanding of this condition.