Atherosclerosis is a chronic and progressive inflammatory disease that leads to a build-up of substances known as plaque on the walls of arteries. This plaque layer can harden over time and narrow the arteries, limiting blood flow to other parts of the body. Plaque layers may also rupture, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
An international team consisting of engineers, medical researchers, a clinician, physicists and biologists has developed tools to predict whether plaques may be vulnerable to rupture by measuring the changes in blood flow patterns around atherosclerosis as well as the structural stresses in the vessel wall.
Through this collaboration involving Monash University, the Baker Institute and Alfred Health, a physiologically relevant computer model was developed which enables simulation of the blood flow, the structural stresses and shear stresses around atherosclerotic plaques.
The overall program has also included micro-computed Synchrotron X-ray tomography to obtain digitalized artery geometries, Atomic Force Microscopy to measure the anisotropic elasticity properties of the vessels, establishment of a vessel chamber to study the dynamics of the system and a nanoparticle approach to provide in vivo imaging of plaques.
By providing an improved understanding of the evolution and rupture of vulnerable plaques, this work serves as an important foundation for the future development of improved diagnosis, management and therapies for atherosclerosis.