Buchanan is PhD Paper Finalist at World Congress of Biomechanics Conference

photo of Rachel Buchanan in lab coat standing in lab

Rachel Buchanan, a biomedical engineering graduate student who works with ICES Michael Sacks,
uses a mix of computational and experimental methods to conduct her research on the biomechanics
of the aortic valve's interstitial cells. Buchanan is pictured here with a device for measuring flexure in
aortic valve tissue samples.

Rachel Buchanan, a graduate student working with Professor Michael Sacks in the Center for Cardiovascular Simulation, has been selected as a finalist in the World Congress of Biomechanics’ PhD level paper competition.

She was selected based on her research abstract titled “In Situ Estimation of Aortic Valve Interstitial Cell Mechanical State From Tissue Level Measurements.”

Buchanan is among the 36 finalists selected from over 700 applicants, and will present her research in a podium session at the congress's conference in Boston in July. Cash prizes in $100, $300 and $400 amounts will be awarded to the top three finalists across six to-be-determined themes.

“I was shocked that I got the podium and I’m quite excited about it,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan’s research focuses on using tissue-level experimental data to develop an inverse biomechanical model of the interstitial cells present in the aortic valve. Understanding the cells’ biophysical state, especially their stiffness and contraction, is important because heart valve conditions often manifest themselves at the cellular level before showing sign of disease that a patient can perceive, Buchanan said. Valve calcification is a condition at the forefront of the research.

“In the aortic valve the most common pathology is calcification…and changes in the biophysical state of the cell is an indicator of when the disease starts,” Buchanan said. “However, you can’t directly measure what’s going on with the cells in their native tissue environment. You have to have a computational model.”

The current simulation depicts a representative sample of valve tissue as it would behave in the human body, complete with cell arrangements and biomechanical behavior across the valve tissue’s various layers. It was informed by histological data and experimental flexure tests collected in situ, meaning conditions were kept as lifelike as possible, with tests being performed on 3-D samples kept at body temperature.

“The whole point of that is we can leave [the cells] in their native environment,” Buchanan said.

By the time of the presentation, Buchanan says she hopes to have run experiments and used her model to test how statins, a widely prescribed class of cholesterol lowering drugs, affect the valve’s cellular biomechanics.