Could Astrophysics Save Lives?

Who would have guessed astrophysics could save lives? But it’s true. Planetary geologists studying how molten metal coagulates at the center of planets while they are forming have discovered that their research can also be used to investigate blood flow in the human heart. Using the methods developed by astrophysicists, surgeons were able to find the location of a potentially life-threatening blood clot in a patient’s heart.

Planetary geologists use sophisticated computer modeling to explore the flow of liquid metal through rocks. Using the same type of model, the scientists were able to show doctors in the UK where the patient’s blood was gathering in a pool in their heart due to a blood clot. Doctors confirmed the clot and successfully treated the patient.

The researchers now hope to conduct more detailed clinical studies on the technique to see if it could be used routinely as a way of identifying dangerous blood clots in heart patients.

Professor Nick Petford, a geologist at Bournemouth University, who led the research, said, “We were examining how liquid metal accumulates in the core of a planet like the Earth over just a few million years, which is quite fast in geological terms. The metal flows through cracks and fissures that open up in the rock as the planet is deformed by impacts from outer space during its early period.”

Petford said he and his colleagues by chance were talking with clinicians at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, and found commonalities in that the vascular system was just like the cracks and fissures they were studying in meteorite samples. “We were able to look at blood flow in the same way we looked at the flow of metal,” he said.

The technology uses a computer to scan images of cracks in a meteorite or arteries in the heart to produce an accurate simulation of how liquid will flow through them.

Petford worked with radiologist Dr. Roger Patel to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of a patient’s heart to analyze the blood flow.

Surgeons already suspected there was an area of stagnant blood that could cause a blood clot but could not be sure where. By scanning the images from the MRI scan into the computer simulation, the researchers were able to predict the clot’s location.

Professor Petford said: “All vascular systems are different so previous attempts to model the heart don’t give information on what is going on in that individual patient, particularly if their heart is irregular or deformed in some way.

“By using real MRI scans we are able to produce an exact replica of what is going on in the patient’s body.”

Doctors now hope the technology can be developed so it can be used routinely to analyze scans from heart patients. “We are hoping to improve the model over the next few years and perhaps have a technique that can be used alongside scans in the next five to ten years,” said Patel.

Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer and accounts for around 200,000 deaths each year, and in the US, the someone dies from the disease every 34 seconds.

Source: The Telegraph

15 Replies to “Could Astrophysics Save Lives?”

  1. Great! It’s always surprising and delightful to see the ways in which phenomena in areas of study that at first seem worlds apart can coalesce based on the physics of simple underlying principles. In fact – that really is the nature of, and the pay-off from, physics and science in general, isn’t it?

    This example is certainly not unique – there have been many applications of both physics and the technology used to explore physics that have ended up directly benefiting human beings in both medicinal and other ways. The list goes on and on – and I always take a great deal of delight in informing people of this fact when they claim that esoteric scientific research such as high-energy physics or astronomy has no direct benefit to the population. There is, and it’s there for all to see – even discounting the best part of it all which is the pure joy and grand adventure of discovery that science has enabled us to embark on as a species.

  2. What’s with this damn thing! Why do some of my comment not show up despite being told “your comment has been added”? It happens to perhaps one-in-ten. Infuriating!

  3. With MRI, the cracked slip disk on my L4-L5 back problems I had was found exactly and surgery necessary-the L4-L5 was fused and I was walking the in 4 hours, this was back in 1994 and had no problem since. Without MRI, the surgury would have been far more involved and recovery much longer. MRI is just many of the great things that evolved with astro-physics and studying sub-atomic particles. It is not just a matter of saving lifes, but bettering peoples lifes-it is unfortunate many don’t know the great discoveries made by astro-physics to better peoples’ lifes.

  4. addendum- make sure you have a good neurosurgeon and does’t have booze on his breath lol. I was out of the hopital the next day after causing a ruckus trying to get out the same day of the surgury. Still, astro-physics is great!!!!! I am certain far more will be found besides having more knowledge of the Universe, much will involved improving and saving lifes.!!!

  5. Is it just my computer, but I can’t get to previous posts on articles with several pages of comments? I had the same problem a few days ago, and now it looks like its back. Very frustrating.

  6. I agree that great ideas based primarily in physics (like MRI, fMRI, PET) can and do help many with real-life diseases. I’ve also seen the process work the other way. Some of the same equations used in processing CAT scan data was used to analyze data from SNR Cassiopea A (via optical & infrared tomography).

  7. Jon Hanford Says
    I have the same problem getting back to previous posts, it happens about the same time weekdays M-F about 1500-1800 PDT,
    the server for this site is most likely too saturated with too many users.

  8. Jon Hanford Says
    Actually, the times are about 1500-2100PDT,
    the more active feeds are saturated for that longer period, the older multi-page feeds are affected about 1500-1800 PDT

  9. Jon Hanford Says
    At 23::10 PDT, there is still problems, there’s a problem with this sites server or there’s a problem with this site itself. It was not this bad before trying to go back a page on the multi-page feeds.

  10. I’m still not able to read responses to any articles if there are more than 1 page of comments. Gotta read responses to stories quickly before the page fills up with comments ’cause there’s no going back to read earlier comments(at least on page 1). Someone needs to fix this. It’s impossible to have a long discussion about some article or read early responses from others with this problem.

  11. As Astrofiend pointed out earlier, after submitting a reply, it says “your comment has been added” but to see your comment, you have to close the page and then reopen it. This is cumbersome. Also, I’ve seen problems (errors) with the software that tallies responses to articles, seems to have a mind of its own.

  12. You should mention which browser you use. I use Firefox and I haven’t a problem.

  13. I’m using Firefox 3.0.8 and occasionally IE 8 and Chrome. The problems seem to have abated as of this post.

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