Clarkson assistant professor gets $240,620 grant for research on heart failure
Sunday, October 8, 2017 - 8:26 am

POTSDAM -- Clarkson University Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Yuncheng Du has received a grant of $240,620 from the National Science Foundation for his research that is working to improve heart failure management and decision making for doctors and their patients.

Heart failure is a serious, progressive condition that affects more than five million adults in the U.S. It occurs when a weakened heart fails to pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in the body. Many people with heart failure lead productive lives with medication, lifestyle changes, and/or surgical interventions. But understanding the best solutions for individual patients, especially those with end-stage heart failure, is complicated.

With the NSF funding, Du is creating computer programs that will help physicians determine patient-specific protocols that are contributing to heart failure, and assess treatment options and probable outcomes.

There are 39 parameters in the Acute Decompensated Heart Failure National Registry that physicians use to assess heart failure risks, including body weight and blood pressure.

“Physicians currently assess these parameters empirically,” says Du. “But it’s difficult to consider all the criteria and how they interact with one another with information gathered from labs, tests or by observing the patient.”

Du’s solution is a computer program that identifies the risk factors that cause heart failure in a specific patient. Using this software, a physician can then systematically assess whether an end-stage heart failure patient is eligible for or would benefit from a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation, as well as the success rate of this treatment. The software will also alert physicians to patients who are ineligible for LVAD implantation, thus reducing the mortality rate of implantation and prompting physicians to consider alternative treatments.

LVAD is a mechanical pump implanted inside a patient’s chest to help a weak heart pump blood. Conventional LVADs operate at constant speeds that only physicians can adjust. This is both an inconvenience as well as a potential health hazard because the LVADs cannot adapt to the patients’ physical activities, such as resting and exercising.

Du is designing an adaptive LVAD controller software that can assess the patient’s physiological condition, such as aortic pressure, and automatically adjust the speed to match the patient’s needs. “This software, when downloaded to a patient’s LVAD, acts as a personalized monitoring system automatically adjusting the speed of the LVAD according to changes in physical activity,” says Du. “This not only makes LVADs safer for patients, but also decreases medical costs because patients will not need to have their LVADs calibrated at a clinic.”

For Du, this is also the start of a broader, more comprehensive research program. “We want to predict how other complex systems work, and tweak their components to make them work better,” he says.