Multiscale Tissue Mechanics
The Barocas group works on many aspects of multiscale biomechanics with the goal of creating a "materials science of tissue." They use a code that involves two computational scales: the tissue scale, at which the material appears to be continuous, and the structural scale, at which it is recognized to be constituted of discrete, often fibrous elements, involves network models of the tissue at points corresponding to the integration points in the tissue-scale model. This approach requires millions of variables (thousands of fibers in each of thousands of microproblems), requiring high-performance resources. Fortunately, the micro-scale problems can be solved in parallel with great efficiency, making the computations tractable.
Because the approach is broadly applicable, the group studies a wide range of tissue types. Current work focuses on bioartificial tissues containing collagen and cells, on the ascending thoracic aorta (in health and in aneurysm), on the ligament forming the capsule that surrounds the facet joints in the lumbar spine, and on the capillaries in the kidney. For collagen gels, they study material properties and focus in particular on failure, which of course is also extremely important in aortic aneurysm. In the facet capsule, the work emphasizes not tissue failure but the transmission of forces from the macroscopic scale to the cellular scale - how do large, repeated loads lead to cellular injury (and eventually to pain)? In the kidney, the researchers are exploring how the tissue remodels under load and how control of capillary pressure to maintain filtration rate affects the remodeling process. In addition, new work is exploring the mechanical behavior of touch receptors, in particular those involved in vibrotactile sensing.
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