2 PhD positions are available at the BCN-MedTech, Department of Information & Communication Technologies of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, in close collaboration with BCNatal - The Fetal Medicine Research Centre, Barcelona, starting Sept 2018.
The project will be conducted in the Department of Information & Communication Technologies of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain for the computational part (supervised by ICREA Research Prof. B. Bijnens and Dr. Oscar Camara) and in the The Fetal Medicine Research Centre, at the Maternity Hospital of Hospital Clínic (supervised by Dr F. Crispi, Dr. E. Eixarch and Prof E. Gratacos). Other (international) collaborators will be involved, depending on the project.
PhD project 1: Development of a multi-scale model of the cardiovascular system of a foetus with aortic coarctation
Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is one of the major determinants of perinatal deaths. The origin and the structural and hemodynamic remodelling caused by CHD are not fully understood. Computational models have shown to be a great approach to better understand the underlying mechanisms of different cardiovascular diseases and to perform patient-specific simulations to understand remodelling and test different treatment strategies and therapies. Aortic coarctation is one of the most difficult cardiac defects to diagnose before birth, and it accounts for 8% of congenital heart diseases. This congenital disease consists on the narrowing of the distal aortic arch in mild cases, thus reducing the blood flow in the fetal aortic arch. Antenatal diagnosis is crucial for early treatment of the neonate and to decrease the risk of morbidity and mortality. Therefore, the aim of this project is the development of a multi-scale model of the cardiovascular system of a fetus with aortic coarctation (and related defects such as ventricular or atrial septal defects), including also the implementation of a tissue growth model to be able to assess the cardiac growth and remodelling during development. It will consist on a 0D model of the circulation, including all the relevant vessels and vascular beds, potentially coupled to a simple 3D model of the fetal heart. Then, a simplified mathematical model of cardiac growth and remodelling will be incorporated in order to study the effects of hemodynamic and mechanical alterations under aortic coarctation into cardiac development.
PhD project 2: The Heart-Brain axis, or There and Back again: the journey towards brain development traverses vascular territories
The heart and the brain are arguably the two most fascinating and important organs of the human body. Scientists have been studying these organs for centuries but mainly at an individual organ level. There is a need for a more systemic approach to study the physiology of some neurological and cardiovascular processes that remain not well understood, even with the current deluge of medical data and advanced computational tools available nowadays. A good example involves brain development, especially in abnormal conditions such as after insults during pregnancy (Intra-Uterine Growth Restriction, IUGR). There are plain and numerous evidences on the effect of IUGR on the cardiovascular system and in the brain of these infants, but they have never been studied together. The aim of this project is to create a computational modelling platform, linking heart and brain systems, to test the influence of mechanical forces originating from vascular anatomy, haemodynamics and metabolic characteristics on brain development in normal and abnormal conditions. This research will open up opportunities for understanding systems-based mechanisms of other conditions affecting heart and brain such as congenital heart disease, schizophrenia, autism, neurodegenerative diseases or neurocardiology applications.
The first task will then involve the development of a model of neurological development coupling brain mechanics with a multi-scale model of blood circulation and metabolism. It will create a multi-system, -physics and -scale model of brain development, including the influence of mechanical forces, haemodynamics and metabolic characteristics. Local forces will arise from anisotropic tissue surrounded by fluid and skull as well as pulsatile forces through vessels and their acute and chronic remodelling. Blood circulation models from heart to brain will provide regional flow and pressures at different scales, whereas metabolic exchange models will be included to describe oxygen and nutrients diffusion from vasculature to brain tissue. In a second phase of the project, parametric studies will be performed to identify the most relevant characteristics for normal and abnormal brain development. Robust verification and validation experiments of the developed computational models will be implemented, both for each subsystem individually and globally. A thorough sensitivity analysis of the parameters will be achieved to determine the ones having the largest influence on brain development and how cardiovascular deficiencies can induce abnormal neurodevelopment.
This project is strongly interdisciplinary, joining clinical, biomedical and technical expertise. The PhD candidate will be surrounded by a team including experts, postdocs and junior researchers from different disciplines (engineering/physics, biomedical/experimental), available in the hosting research group (PhySense, part of the BCN-MedTech research unit at UPF) and from other collaborators (P. Saez, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya; D. Rueckert, Imperial College London; M. Sermesant, M. Lorenzi, Inria, France; O. Coulon, Aix-Marseille Université; Dr. F. Crispi, Dr. E. Eixarch, Hospital Clínic de Barcelona; M. Vázquez, Barcelona Supercomputing Centre; V. Borrell, Instituto Neurociencias Alicante).
Full information can be found here