Collaboration: It's good for the heart

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in North America, causing one death every 40 seconds. In many cases, cardiovascular diseases develop without any symptoms and can go undetected until it’s too late.

So Professor Jason Carey of Mechanical Engineering was eager to collaborate on an interdisciplinary team with Professor Sean McMurtry of Medicine and Dentistry and two engineering students to develop a model for easier and more sensitive diagnoses. 

“Professor McMurtry had the idea and was working already with Dr. Hahn, who was here at the time. They needed support for the engineering side and for the student, Shiva Nejad, who was working on the project,” he explains.

The team set out to develop models for diagnosing the two most prevalent forms of cardiovascular disease: peripheral artery disease, where the arteries become lined with fat; and arterial stiffening, where the arteries lose their ability to expand under rising blood pressure. The current technologies for diagnosing the diseases produce unreliable results and, in the case of arterial stiffness, the technology requires a trained technician to perform delicate measurements.

The U of A team developed a mathematical model using blood pressure and the variations in blood pressure that occur in each disease. Then they built an in-silico model of the arterial tree and used the model to simulate peripheral artery disease and arterial stiffness and took blood pressure readings. The results from the team’s mathematical model were even more sensitive than current technologies.

This initial work showed the feasibility of the team’s approach and also the possibilities for research with a team approach. “This is exactly the kind of collaborative effort that is so fantastic at an institution like the University of Alberta,” Carey says. “It’s really exciting when we can break down the barriers between the traditional disciplines.”

Carey is hopeful that the team’s initial results will be carried forward for clinical validation by a student in Medicine and Dentistry so that their team work can be good for hearts in the community.