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Research may Yield Improved Treatment for Diseased Lungs

A multi-institutional team of engineers, scientists and clinicians from the University of Wisconsin-Madison will study large-artery biomechanics that could play a role in heart failure in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Patients who have the disease may have narrowed, thickened pulmonary arteries in which scar tissue accumulates, blood flow is blocked and tiny blood clots form. There are treatments, but no cure, for pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Naomi Chesler, a UW-Madison assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is leading the project, which is supported by roughly $2 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. She says the research team hopes to create improved diagnostic tools that enable them to track stiffening of large and small arteries and link these measurements with impaired ventricular function.

Currently, researchers believe pulmonary arterial hypertension is tied mostly to narrowing of the small blood vessels that carry oxygen-poor blood from the right ventricle of the heart to the pulmonary arteries in the lungs. "That reduction in diameter increases resistance, and that increase in resistance overloads the right heart, because it has to produce more pressure," says Chesler.

But in this process, she says, researchers have downplayed the role of stiffness in the much larger pulmonary arteries, which also contributes to the right heart load.

For example, on the left side of the circulation, where oxygen-rich blood from the lungs flows to the head, limbs and major organs, researchers just recently have begun to understand that the properties of large "conduit" arteries are important to left-ventricle function.

"Changes can occur to large vessels that alter the way that pulse waves travel in the circulation and can end up overloading the left ventricle - not by increasing the mean pressure, but b
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