Aerospace engineering student Kimberly Kroh is conducting research for a safe, new technique to diagnosis heart disease. As a Discovery Learning apprentice she worked under Professor Robin Shandas, researching advanced ultrasound-based biomedical imaging. This non-invasive technique monitors blood flow through the heart by using the Echo PIV Ultrasound Managing System, which measures blood flow velocity at a much higher resolution than current methods.
The research’s objective is to determine if the Echo PIV technique can accurately detect and report complex flow patterns seen in the aortic arch section of the heart. The goal is to use this technique to measure flow patterns in patients with various heart diseases. This unique research is revolutionary because it can actually be used on a human body to image the heart, whereas current laser imaging techniques cannot be used on the body. The Echo PIV technique also is revolutionary because it has the ability to measure components of flow velocity in two directions while other ultrasound techniques, such as Doppler ultrasound, only measure velocity along the beamline.
Kimberly’s project involved simulating the heart’s blood flow by pumping water through a small tube shaped like the aortic arch. In this simulation, the water contains microbubbles that appear on ultrasound images and allow the flow to be seen with the Echo PIV system. The resulting ultrasound images can be analyzed with software that shows the direction of the flow and velocity at different points along the aortic arch. The research also involves a study of how the flow patterns change when the shape of the arch has been affected by different heart diseases. Until now, most research in this area has been done with an optical imaging system which uses lasers to image the flow.
According to Dr. Shandas, "Ultimately the Echo PIV research will be used by diagnostic radiologists and cardiologists for patients with conditions including bicuspid aortic valves, coarctation, aortic stints and dilation, prosthetic valves, and assorted congenital heart diseases. If the Echo PIV method appears promising, we will likely try to license the technology to a company once it is FDA-approved. The technology could be available within three years." He complimented Kimberly’s work by saying she did a good job deciphering the potentially complex areas of ultrasound imaging, cardiovascular blood flow, and physics of micro-bubbles in her research. "The Discovery Learning Program provides opportunities at all levels: undergraduates get exposed to cutting-edge research; graduate students gain experience in mentoring; and faculty get a unique perspective on undergraduate-based research training issues — something many of us may not think of all the time.”
After this research is completed, Kimberly and graduate student Hairong Zheng plan to publish their project results. Professor Shandas hopes to generate at least one conference presentation and an article if there are positive results from the research. Kimberly's future plans include attending graduate school with a focus on bio-astronautics and to eventually work for a firm such as Lockheed Martin Space Systems Division in Littleton, Colorado.
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