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New Tool for Helping Pediatric Heart Surgery

A team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Stanford University has developed a way to simulate blood flow on the computer to optimize surgical designs. It is the basis of a new tool that may help surgeons plan for a life-saving operation called the "Fontan" surgery, which is performed on babies born with severe congenital heart defects.

The researchers will present their work next week at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics will take place from November 22-24 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Babies who get this surgery have a developmental disease where one of the chambers -- or ventricles -- of the heart fails to grow properly. This leaves their hearts unable to properly circulate blood through their lungs and starves their bodies of oxygen. The lack of oxygen turns their skin blue, a condition sometimes referred to as "blue baby syndrome" for that reason.

The Fontan surgery is one of three surgeries performed immediately after birth to replumb the circulation of children born missing their left ventricles. The operation essentially connects the veins that would normally bring blood into the right side of the heart with the pulmonary arteries. The aim is to redirect the blood flow so that it becomes properly oxygenated, allowing the patient to survive with only one functional pumping chamber. Before the advent of this type of surgery in the early 1970’s, these sorts of heart conditions were uniformly fatal.

There are still risks, including exercise intolerance, blood clot formation, and eventual heart failure requiring transplantation. Doctors mitigate this risk by carefully planning the surgery, starting with images of a baby's heart and then sketching out their plans. UCSD's Alison Marsden has been working with surgeons at Rady Children's Hospital and Stanford University to develop a new computational tool to assist in this process. In addition, Dr. Marsden and cardiologist Jeff Feinstein have developed a new Y-graft design for the Fontan surgery that is expected to be put into clinical use within a few months.

"Our ultimate goal is to optimize surgeries that are tailored for individual patients so that we don't have to rely on a "one-size fits all" solution," says Marsden.

The tool first uses imaging data to construct a model of an individual baby's heart and then allows doctors to input their surgical designs. The computer can then systematically explore different potential designs using powerful optimization algorithms, similar to those used in the aerospace industry for aircraft design. It then applies fluid dynamics to simulate the blood flow after reconstruction. This way, says Marsden, surgeons can test their plans and evaluate blood flow patterns before operating.

The talk " Analysis of Alternative Polling Strategies for Derivative-Free Optimization of the Fontan Surgery" by Weiguang Yang, Jeffrey Feinstein, and Alison Marsden is at 12:06 p.m. on Tuesday, November 24, 2009.


The 62nd Annual DFD Meeting is largest scientific meeting of the year devoted to the fluid dynamics, it brings together researchers from around the globe to present work with applications in engineering, energy, physics, climate, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics. It will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis. All meeting information, including directions to the Convention Center is at:
Credentialed full-time journalist and professional freelance journalists working on assignment for major publications or media outlets are invited to attend the conference free of charge. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, please contact Jason Bardi (, 301-209-3091).
Main meeting Web site:
Searchable form:
Local Conference Meeting Website:
PDF of Meeting Abstracts:
Division of Fluid Dynamics page:
Virtual Press Room: SEE BELOW
The APS Division of Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room will contain tips on dozens of stories as well as stunning graphics and lay-language papers detailing some of the most interesting results at the meeting. Lay-language papers are roughly 500 word summaries written for a general audience by the authors of individual presentations with accompanying graphics and multimedia files. The Virtual Press Room will serve as starting points for journalists who are interested in covering the meeting but cannot attend in person. See:

Currently, the Division of Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room contains information related to the 2008 meeting. In mid-November, the Virtual Press Room will be updated for this year's meeting, and another news release will be sent out at that time.

A reserved workspace with wireless internet connections will be available for use by reporters. It will be located in the meeting exhibition hall (Ballroom AB) at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday and Monday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Tuesday from 8:00 a.m. to noon. Press announcements and other news will be available in the Virtual Press Room.
Every year, the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics hosts posters and videos that show stunning images and graphics from either computational or experimental studies of flow phenomena. The outstanding entries, selected by a panel of referees for artistic content, originality and ability to convey information, will be honored during the meeting, placed on display at the Annual APS Meeting in March of 2010, and will appear in the annual Gallery of Fluid Motion article in the September 2010 issue of the journal Physics of Fluids.

This year, selected entries from the 27th Annual Gallery of Fluid Motion will be hosted as part of the Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room. In mid-November, when the Virtual Press Room is launched, another announcement will be sent out.

The Division of Fluid Dynamics of the American Physical Society exists for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the physics of fluids with special emphasis on the dynamical theories of the liquid, plastic and gaseous states of matter under all conditions of temperature and pressure.

Jason Socrates Bardi | Newswise Science News
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