Heart failures and related diseases claim more than 17
million lives across the world each year – more than all forms of cancer
combined. The number is expected to grow to 23.6 million by 2030*.
According to the British Heart Foundation, 155,000 people died from
heart diseases in 2014 in the UK alone. It estimates that seven million
people in the UK are living with heart and circulatory diseases and
healthcare costs could be as much as £11 billion.
At the Hartree Centre, scientists are using our powerful
supercomputers to visualise how blood flows through implanted blood
pumps, which prolong the lives of heart patients waiting for a donor.
The work will help to reduce the number of prototypes needed for
clinical testing – so saving on time, materials and costs – and
potentially lead to the earlier availability of devices for patient use.
The goal of the research is to assess if using
computational fluid dynamics in conjunction with high performance
computing (HPC) can increase confidence in the use of computer models to
design these complex medical devices.
The research came about through the US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), who put out a call to assess whether computer
models can accurately simulate the performance of blood pumps (also
known as Ventricular Assist Devices, or VADs).
Working with colleagues from FH Aachen University of
Applied Sciences and FZ Jülich Research Centre in Germany, and EDF
R&D, scientists from the Science and Technology Facilities Council
(STFC) developed simulations of how a centrifugal pump would behave with
blood flowing through it at different rates, and using various rotation
Professor Dave Emerson, one of the STFC scientists working
on the project, explains: “The pump has a central rotor and blades which
turn, helping the blood to flow. It would take several revolutions of
the blades before it gets to a quasi-steady state where the blood flows
smoothly, so we looked at results obtained at between 5 - 15
The researchers used four million hours of computing time
at the Hartree Centre and FZ Jülich to perform the billions of
calculations needed to produce faster, more accurate blood-flow
simulations. One simulation involved 76 million elements, or
computational cells, just to describe a pump’s dimensions.
Through these calculations they were able to predict where
any damage to the blood might occur through turbulence in the flow,
which could lead to blood clotting (thrombosis) or the breakdown of red
blood cells (haemolysis). These are the two major life-threatening
factors for patients depending on VADs.
“Our results suggest that the design of these VADs need to
be more blood-sensitive to reduce the risk of haemolysis and
thrombosis,” says Professor Emerson. “Our work, and the work of other
groups, can be used by the FDA to improve future devices, making them
safer and available earlier for heart patients in the future.”
*Statistics courtesy of the American Heart Association