Patient Specific Computational Modelling of Human Upper Airway Collapse

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Engineering


The upper human airway related problems have been recently recognised as a problem affecting a significant portion of the human population all over the world. One of the major human airway diseases is 'sleep apnoea', a sleep related disorder. A patient with a severe sleep apnoea can develop hypertension and severe heart disease including pulmonary hypertension, in addition to sleepless nights, traffic accidents, failure to work in the environment and marital disharmony. Though some treatment methods have been developed, they are not always user friendly and enforcing these treatment methods is difficult. Thus, no wonder that development of alternative treatment methods and improved diagnosis methods have been undertaken by many clinicians. Though many clinical trials have been conducted on human airway related problems, the understanding of the human airway diseases is far from satisfactory. The proposed 'patient specific' computational modelling, however, is expected to develop an excellent understanding of the human airway collapse, one of the major reasons for human airway diseases. The patient specific scans and some experimental flow, displacement and pressure measurements will be provided by the collaborating clinicians, who are dealing with human airway problems on a daily basis. The scans will be transformed into human airway geometries with the help of clinicians and relevant software. The collaborating clinicians will help the engineering scientists to differentiate the human airway walls and muscle from the air space. The skeleton of the geometry will be constructed using curves and surfaces. Once the geometries are extracted, a linear tetrahedron finite element mesh will be generated using the in house mesh generator. The mesh will be then used in the fluid and solid dynamic calculations. With the coupled analysis of the air and solid movement, it is expected that the model will be able to pinpoint the location/locations of human airway collapse. The majority of the software required for the analysis will be developed within the applicant's institution and some of them have already been developed. For geometry extraction standard software referred to as 3D-DOCTOR will be used in addition to the in house software. Fluid and solid dynamic calculations will be carried out using the finite element based in house turbulent flow and viscoelastic solid codes. The development of these tools for the human airway and coupling of the proposed software are expected to be completed by the fellow within the first three years of the proposed research. The last two years of the project period will be spent to generate more patient specific data to create a data base for airway collapse analysis. Towards the end of the project a correlation between various human airway parameters such as flow rate, pressure distribution, characteristic dimensions of nasal passages, tongue, uvula and neck, airway muscle tone (muscle properties), position of sleep (gravity) and obesity factor of patients and human airway collapse will be developed. This correlation will be put together in a spread sheet form so that practicing clinicians will be able to use the software to assess human airway related diseases. All human airway problems of interest such as sleep apnoea and new treatment methods, throat cancer and speech therapies, air way corrective surgeries etc. are within the remit of the proposed project.The outcome of the proposed project will benefit enormously the clinicians dealing with human airways, patients with airway problems, computational mechanics researchers and academics all over the world.


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Description A reduced patient-specific model can be developed using subject-specific information. This finding is now used in the coronary heart disease diagnosis.
Exploitation Route More clinical study and usable software environment.
Sectors Healthcare

Description EPSRC
Amount £253,040 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/H024271/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2009 
End 03/2011
Description EPSRC
Amount £127,395 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/G028532/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2009 
End 07/2011
Description Leverhulme Trust
Amount £72,822 (GBP)
Funding ID EGR348 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2010 
End 12/2011
Description NISCHR
Amount £140,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EGR902 
Organisation Health and Care Research Wales 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Description Royal Society of London
Amount £90,600 (GBP)
Funding ID EGR463 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 12/2012
Description Clinical study on nasal cavity obstructions 
Organisation Singleton Hospital
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Hospitals 
PI Contribution We carried out a clinical study on patients with nasal airway obstructions. The work was carried out in collaboration with ENT department at Singleton Hospital. It involved senior consultants, junior doctors and nurses to take measurement pre- and post- operatively. The clinical study has resulted in a report. The study was set up after obtaining ethical approval from the relevant bodies.
Collaborator Contribution The collaboration involved senior consultants, junior doctors and nurses. The work was carried out as a part of pathways to impact. The work needed the time and expertise of the clinical colleagues to provide access to patients and flow measurement on the patients. This was then analysed by engineering scientists via models to understand the efficacy of surgical procedures on nasal cavities.
Impact The collaboration is interdisciplinary involving clinicians and engineers. 1. So far it resulted in a draft article on the outcome of the clinical study.
Start Year 2014
Company Name Zeta Computational Resources Ltd 
Description To provide service in the computational software sector. To market medical software for diagnosis. 
Year Established 2013 
Impact Early stages. Currently the company is providing biomedical engineering services. The company is now able to organise a conference that was initiated as a part of the EPSRC fellowship. The turnover of the company is reaching more than £100k a year.