Application deadline 9 April 2019
A PhD position is available at the BCN-MedTech Research Unit Department of Information & Communication Technologies (DTIC) of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Spain, in close collaboration with IDIBAPS and BCNatal - The Fetal Medicine Research Centre of Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, starting October 2019.
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 tools available nowadays. A good example involves brain development, especially in abnormal conditions such as after insults during pregnancy (IntraUterine 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 involve the development of a model of neurological development coupling brain mechanics with a multi-scale model of blood circulation and metabolism. 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 the heart to the 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. Mesh-less numerical techniques will be explored. Robust verification and validation experiments of the developed computational models will be implemented, both for each sub-system 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. A unique clinical database of IUGR cases available at Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, including brain and heart data from the same cases, will be used to personalize, validate and guide the modelling work. The combination of physiological modelling and machine learning techniques to analyse this data is planned.
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 a number of collaborators (P. Saez, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya; D. Rueckert,
Imperial College London; M. Sermesant, M. Lorenzi, Inria, France; O. Coulon, Aix-Marseille
Université; Pr. B. Bijnens, Dr. F. Crispi, Dr. E. Eixarch, Hospital Clínic de Barcelona; M. Vázquez,
Barcelona Supercomputing Centre; V. Borrell, Instituto Neurociencias Alicante; S. Safaei, G.
Talou, P. Hunter, Auckland Bioengineering Institute).
If you are interested in the position, full details can be found here