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Mixing blood and oil: Conference tackles similar challenges from two major industries

Houston, TX - 12/7/2010

Scientists and engineers from two of the nation's largest industries - medicine and energy - came together this week for the fourth Pumps & Pipes symposia to explore the synergies in moving oil and pumping blood.

Much like moving oil through a pipeline, the heart must pump blood through the body. Both systems need clean, well-functioning pipes (or blood vessels), free of blockages or corrosion, to function efficiently. Both industries also are crucial to our nation's economy and future.

Sponsored by the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, ExxonMobil and the University of Houston, the Pumps & Pipes 4 conference brought experts from both industries together to stimulate new ideas and to showcase fully-functioning prototypes that came from ideas sparked at previous years' conferences.

"We have begun to see more than new ideas coming out of the conference," said Dr. Alan Lumsden, program director of Pumps & Pipes and medical director of the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. "Now we are testing new applications that are based on collaborations born from earlier conferences."

The day started with a demo of a MRI-compatible pumping system that simulated valve function, flow dynamics and vessel integrity in and around a human heart. The model was built in an ExxonMobil lab in collaboration with a cardiologist who specializes in cardiac valve imaging.

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The doctor and the engineer came together last year at the conference, and the engineer helped the physician improve the ability to diagnose and treat mitral valve regurgitation and aortic disease. Dr. Stephen Little, a cardiologist at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, recently received grant funding from the American Heart Association to study valve function using this new device.

"Our collaborators at ExxonMobil helped create a modeling system that is made entirely out of plastics - no metal - so that we can put the model in our cardiac MRI machine to study blood flow and heart valve disease in a much more precise and valuable way," Little said.

"Other physicians are also using the model to study the shearing affect of blood flow on the vessels and to better treat aortic dissections, which are deadly."

Dr. Mauro Ferrari, a mechanical engineer and president of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, discussed the use of nanoparticles to deliver cancer-fighting drugs through a hostile environment - the human immune system - to a malignant tumor. He described how the process was modeled after the space shuttle's multi-stage rocket system that delivers astronauts to the International Space Station.

Participants also toured the Methodist Institute for Technology, Innovation and Education, a 35,000-square-foot training and research space including a virtual hospital, a procedural skills lab and research operating rooms designed to train practicing surgeons and their teams in new, advanced surgical techniques and the use of new medical technologies such as computer aided surgery and robotics.

Other topics included microbial induced corrosion, which is similar to plaque found on teeth, in arteries and in pipelines. In arteries, it causes fatal heart attacks. In pipelines it can cause millions of dollars of damage when bacteria eats through a pipe, causing oil spills, and miles of producing lines to shut down.

Engineers and surgeons also shared similar challenges and solutions arising from the use of robotics to repair deep-sea valves and cardiac valves to restore necessary flow.

The conference was held in The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, which is part of The Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center.

Pumps and Pipes conference website

Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center website

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