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How are aeronautical engineering methods used to repair damaged valves in the heart?

Adi Morani, a PhD student in the composite materials laboratory at Tel Aviv University uses simulation to prepare for surgeries and save operations that require opening the patient's body. Morani presented his developments at the Simulia users' conference in Israel - the simulation software from Dassault Systèmes

An artery with a valve. Photo:
An artery with a valve. Photo:

Is there any similarity between aeronautics and heart valve replacement? Adi Morani, a PhD student in the composite materials laboratory at Tel Aviv University uses simulation to prepare for surgeries and save operations that require opening the patient's body. Morani presented his developments at the conference of Simulia users in Israel - the simulation software from Dassault Systèmes that was recently held in Herzliya.

What are you researching?

Morani: "I am a doctoral student under Professor Rami Haj Ali from the Composite Materials Laboratory at Tel Aviv University. In our group we study the biomechanics of the aortic valve. The aortic valve, located between the left ventricle and the aorta, allows blood to flow forward and prevents blood from backing up into the left ventricle. 

"Sometimes the aortic valve is damaged as a result of diseases or fatigue and the accepted solution is to transplant a biological valve in place of the damaged valve. The implanted valve is guided over a catheter towards the damaged valve. The new valve is implanted inside the old valve, pushes the leaves of the old valve and starts working immediately upon its implantation. Treatment of aortic valve stenosis using a catheter, without opening the chest, is an innovative technique that may - in the appropriate patients - reduce the complications expected from the operation, shorten the duration of recovery and extend the life of the transplanted person."

"In the laboratory, we are developing the ability to perform a numerical simulation that demonstrates the insertion of the new valve in the specific patient's body, for example if lumps form in the valves and as a result their function becomes impaired and they fail to provide the body with all the amount of blood needed by the body."

"This simulation saves an unnecessary entry with a camera to first locate where a cut needs to be made and then release the blockage using a catheter. The early planning and the simulation save the dangerous procedure, and increase the chances of success of the surgery."

What is between airplanes and the human heart?

"We perform simulations of the blood flow using the methods of classical physics and using mathematical models that are already known from the field of aeronautics - I myself graduated with a bachelor's and master's degree in aeronautics from the Technion. We actually apply the physics of planes to the heart as well. It's the same physics. This combination of the methods between these two fields of engineering allows us to provide additional insights, and to give the doctors another important layer of phenomena before the operation, and also after the operation - to check if it was successful."

What, after all, is similar between aeronautical engineering and medical devices in the heart?

"As strange as it sounds, there is a similarity. For example, the flow method inside the human body and the flow equations are quite similar. The same equations that describe the flow around the plane also make it possible to visualize the blood flow through the heart in which an artificial valve is installed. We recently developed a method based on the kinetic theory of gases from the field of aeronautics and applied it to the design of the valves. In everything related to mechanical operations and flow, there can be a parallel between large airplanes and the human body. We have a flow - air in the case of the plane and blood in the case of the body."

"We also enter the mechanical field of the valve in terms of the efforts acting on it during operation. And here, too, there is a similarity, like an airplane, if the valve is not working properly, it develops an over-exertion that causes its fatigue and then malfunction. "

"The Living Heart" project

Adi Morani, PhD student at Tel Aviv University. Photo courtesy of him
Adi Morani, PhD student at Tel Aviv University. Photo courtesy of him

What simulation software is used in your laboratory?

"I specifically work only with the products of Simulia (from Dassault Systèmes) and in particular with Abacus - the finite element design software that simulates bodies including the aortic valve and recently I work with the development team of Xflow, the software that is responsible for real-time simulation of flow centered in Spain. We hold bi-weekly meetings and develop together a numerical software in which I am going to show how the blood flow in the aorta is carried out. "

"This collaboration is within the framework of the Living Heart Project consortium in which about 150 companies from industry, the clinic and academia are developing a simulator that contains all the components of the heart - biological, physical and chemical while collaborating with the FDA to adjust the regulation while building a model of a real heart . The ambition is that this platform of the heart will make it possible to carry out experiments through simulation to try out the medical equipment and drugs before the clinical trials."

"Simulation is a very important tool for doctors that they can rely on when making clinical decisions. However, doctors are conservative by nature, but once they see the simulations show things they have never seen before, and after they are clinically validated, a new world opens up to them. Obviously they don't rely solely on the simulations but sometimes they can test their actions before penetrating the body. This development has an impact on reality."

Eli Boykis, Dassault Systems operations manager Israel Shen who was present in the interview mentioned that the company has direct activities in the medical field - the Medidata division that provides tools for managing clinical trials with thousands of participants and more. Dozens of start-up companies opening today are using this data, and among other things, also in the planning of stents and other medical devices for the heart.

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