MQ Health - Macquarie University

Cardiovascular disease and treatments

MQ Health’s research in cardiovascular and respiratory medicine ranges from understanding the impacts of changes in artery-wall stiffness on blood pressure and cardiovascular health to using advanced simulations for understanding and better treating cardiovascular conditions.

Arterial stiffness, pulsatility and high blood pressure

A recognised research strength at MQ Health is understanding the ‘pulsatility’ of the cardiovascular system and its impacts on health. Pulsatility is the endless progression of pressure waves that travel through the aorta and other arteries due to the pumping of the heart. The vascular system is designed to accommodate these pressure waves by means of the stretching (or elasticity) of the arteries, but problems start to arise when arteries become stiffer as we age or due to other medical conditions. This stiffening leads to high blood pressure (or hypertension) and often then to other complications.

MQ Health’s studies of pulsatility, also termed haemodynamics – that is, how blood flows through the circulatory system – include explorations of the mechanics and biological behaviour of artery walls and how cardiovascular control and biological signal processing occur. Other studies are measuring how changes in artery properties with ageing, for example, alter blood pressure and ensuing effects on ‘end organs’, particularly the brain.

Insights from such work are enabling development and testing of new and more precise measures of blood pressure and arterial stiffness, often in partnership with industry partners. These tools will give clinicians a clearer and perhaps earlier picture of underlying risk factors and problems than the traditional blood pressure cuff alone.

Advanced simulations in cardiovascular care

A rapidly growing area of research within MQ Health is using computational simulation techniques, particularly computational fluid dynamics, to understand otherwise inaccessible or difficult-to-study aspects of cardiovascular disease. Such simulations allow detailed computation of cardiovascular haemodynamics, which give new insights into the functions of the cardiovascular system.

To use this approach, MQ Health researchers create a three-dimensional computer model of a patient’s arteries from detailed medical imaging data. Applying computational fluid dynamics to this model, including allowance for the pulsatile expansion of the arteries, then allows simulations of the patient’s blood flow. This exciting area of study enables MQ Health researchers to determine how changes in shear stress within the vascular system (essentially, how the blood moves along the artery walls) due to disease or injury in turn cause, for example, atherosclerotic plaque build-up in the arteries.

Perhaps even more exciting is the fact that such simulations also are starting to provide the means to do virtual trials of ‘personalised’ treatments for patients with cardiovascular disease and conditions. One example of work currently underway in this space is predicting the best type of surgical treatment for brain aneurysms. Another example is using the simulations to identify specific patients at risk of plaque build-up, allowing earlier intervention and reducing the risk of future heart attacks.

Cardiac disease and chronic kidney disease

A focus of cardiovascular research within MQ Health is examining the fundamental links between chronic kidney disease, such as polycystic kidney disease, and cardiac disease. For those who suffer from such diseases, their greatest risk of death is from cardiovascular complications, rather than the disease itself.

Researchers within MQ Health are seeking to determine how disease-induced abnormalities in the central nervous system, as well as other effects of the kidney disease, cause cardiovascular problems. Their goal is to identify better ways to treat and prevent these cardiovascular complications than simply treating the symptoms.