Cardiovascular Engineering

Our research in Cardiovascular Engineering is motivated by the desire to understand the mechanisms of cardiovascular disease, particularly atherosclerosis which underlies heart attacks and strokes, the leading cause of death in Western societies. Professors Weinbaum, Tarbell and Fu are conducting major projects at the forefront of this field. Their strong interactive group integrates the main approaches to biomedical engineering research that are in common practice today: mathematical modeling and in vitro and in vivo experiments.

Dr. Weinbaum’s primary approach to problems is through mathematical modeling and the application of principles of fluid and solid mechanics and mass transport, but always in close association with experimentalists and real data. He has made major contributions in developing the “leaky junction” theory of transendothelial transport and has pioneered a new understanding of the classical “Starling Law”. The latest work from the Weinbaum group addresses the critical problem of “vulnerable plaque” rupture in the coronary arteries.

Dr. Tarbell is also involved in mathematical modeling and computer simulation, but his primary methods are experiments in vitro, involving all of the major cells of the blood vessel wall: endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts. He is investigating methods to reduce the “leaky junctions” that mediate cholesterol transport. His group’s in vitro work has included validating predictions of Weinbaum’s modified Starling law, pioneering methods to study endothelial transport, and demonstrating many fluid flow induced phenomena that were subsequently observed in vivo. Most recently, his group has shown the potential role in vascular disease of the combined forces exerted on endothelial cells by pressure pulse induced stretch and fluid shear associated with blood flow.

Dr. Fu exploits modeling and computations in her work as well, but has focused on experiments in animals to generate primary data. She is studying transvascular transport, micro-vessel permeability and angiogenesis, and cancer tumor cell migration and metastasis. A new research direction in her lab is the study of transport across the blood-brain barrier (BBB). She will collaborate with Dr. Tarbell to develop an in vitro model of the BBB for use in drug delivery studies.