Engineering a revolutionary method to measure cardiovascular stiffness

Researchers in the MU College of Engineering are using data already being collected by traditional echocardiograms to measure the rigidity of arteries in the heart.

March 21, 2024

In a discovery that could revolutionize precision heart health care, researchers at the University of Missouri College of Engineering have developed a way to measure cardiovascular stiffness —or the rigidity of arteries in the heart — based on data already being collected by traditional echocardiograms.

“I consider this the most important work I’ve done in my career,” said Noah Manring, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “We have an incredible opportunity to collaborate with cardiologists and physicians to implement this into monitoring that’s already being done to provide better, more precise information to help determine treatment options.”

Aortic stiffness is linked to cardiovascular health, however, right now there’s no clinical way for doctors to measure it. That means patients are given standard treatments for conditions when those procedures or medications may not be the best option.

“And in some cases, those wrong treatments may alleviate symptoms, but can actually cause more complications later,” said Maggie Oliver, a postdoctoral student in mechanical engineering working with Manring on the project.

One measure currently used to assess aortic stiffness is known as the pulse wave velocity test, or PWV, however it’s only being used in research settings.

PWV is considered the gold standard, Oliver said, but it only measures how quickly the pressure waves generated by heartbeat travel along the arteries. While interest in PWV has grown, it’s not been implemented as the method has not been standardized. Therefore, even if hospitals were to adopt it, at this time PWV treatment would not be covered by health insurance.

“Our method is actually better, not only because you can extract the aortic stiffness measurement from existing data, but also because it provides more precise data,” Manring said. “The methods developed in this research use standard clinical examinations that are routinely paid for by insurance, so it would extend the benefits of total cardiovascular assessment to a much wider patient group.”

The team published preliminary data on the new method in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Journal of Engineering and Science in Medical Diagnostics and Therapy.

The paper provides data from echocardiograms of a small sample of patients at University Hospital collected by Oliver along with Senthil Kumar, a cardiologist at MU and also a co-author on the paper.

To measure cardiovascular stiffness, the team used a well-known relationship that expresses mean arterial pressure as the product of cardiac output and peripheral resistance.

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