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NHMRC Development Grant: Bioengineering simulation model for simulated aortas allows medical devices to be applied and tested virtually and cost-effectively – potentially helping patients with hypertensive heart failure.

Research summary

Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) affects more than 530,000 adults in Australia, including a significant part of the aging population and results in 1.6% of hospital admissions yearly.

In HFpEF, the heart has a normal ejection fraction of blood pumped around the body, however the normal contractile function of the left ventricles of the heart becomes stiff and does not relax properly due to molecular changes in the heart muscle.

Risk factors include age, gene mutations, chronic diseases, or conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. There are currently no effective long-term therapies that treat HFpEF and limited treatment options.


Structural changes with aging can lead to the aorta becoming stiff. A stiff blood vessel can result in increased pressure, flow changes such as pulsatility - an increase in reflectance waves. These reflectance waves in the blood flow can directly and indirectly influence biological stress signals in end organs, contributing to organ damage and dysfunction over time, including the brain and heart.

Research impact

The global market for heart failure treatment devices is anticipated to attain $16.5 billion by 2029. This project tested and evaluated aortic assist devices in simulated models of aortic stiffening, introducing innovative design solutions. We developed a novel simulation model to further refine future devices to restore aortic compliance to treat heart failure.

Research objectives

  • Analyse and evaluate the performance of past aortic assist devices to achieve improvements in aortic function.
  • Evaluate aortic stiffness interventions, that include measures of safety and efficacy using various models, including computer simulations, bench top testing, prototyping, 3D printing, translational model testing.
  • Test and evaluate cardiac assist prototypes relevant to aortic stiffness and blood pressure parameters.

Research approach

Our research included:

  • Reviewing historical methods of Aortic Counter pulsation to inform designs and function.
  • Looking at infrastructure pathways for device testing and development (aortic wrap, Balloon counter-pulsation devices, in-house developed concepts for aortic assist devices).
  • Develop and test aortic device designs which included a team for prototyping using 3D printing in collaboration with external academic manufacturing facilities.
  • Establish an engineering cardiovascular flow rig for testing of aortic assist devices on mock vessels using aortic grafts from surgical companies.
  • Developing a translational model for device testing that induces metabolic syndrome and allows testing for aortic assist device evaluation and safety testing.
  • Development and testing of a computer simulation system which used bioengineering simulations to inform function of diseased vascular systems with and without device interactions. Computer simulations helped us to understand surgical and intervention options, in a cost-effective way.

Project details

Project details included:

  • Analysis of clinical studies on aortic stiffening and early-stage heart failure.
  • Conceptual development, supported by advanced bioengineering computer simulations.
  • Collaborative networks for testing prototypes on bioengineering test rigs for flow and compliance.
  • New computer simulation-based programs incorporating aortic stiffening on carotid function to evaluate stroke risk.
  • Evidence to show how previous devices worked on our simulations and test rigs and animal model.

Academic publications

Liao S, McLachlan CS. Cholesterol Efflux: Does It Contribute to Aortic Stiffening? J Cardiovasc Dev Dis. 2018 May 1;5(2):23. doi: 10.3390/jcdd5020023.

Liao S, Zhou Q, Zhang Y. Elastic aortic wrap reduced aortic stiffness by partially alleviating the impairment of cholesterol efflux capacity in pigs. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2018 Aug 7;17(2):101-109. doi: 10.1007/s40200-018-0345-7.

Legerer C, Almsherqi ZA, Dokos S, McLachlan CS. Computational evaluation of an extra-aortic elastic-wrap applied to simulated aging anisotropic human aorta models. Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 27;9(1):20109. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-56609-2.

Legerer C, Almsherqi ZA, McLachlan CS. Over-Wrapping of the Aortic Wall with an Elastic Extra-Aortic Wrap Results in Luminal Creasing. J Cardiovasc Dev Dis. 2018 Aug 11;5(3):42. doi: 10.3390/jcdd5030042. PMID: 30103504; PMCID: PMC6162522.

Petrova M, Li Y, Gholipour A, Kiat H, McLachlan CS. The influence of aortic stiffness on carotid stiffness: computational simulations using a human aorta carotid model. R Soc Open Sci. 2024 Mar 20;11(3):230264. doi: 10.1098/rsos.230264.

Research team

Torrens University Australia

  • Professor Craig McLachlan (Chief Investigator)
  • Dr Teresa Cheng (Research Fellow)
  • Dr Jessie Li (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
  • Dr Alireza Ghoilpour (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)

University of New South Wales

  • Dr Shutan Liao (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
  • Dr Zakaria Almsherqi (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
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