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Section: Application Domains

Virtual Fractional Flow Reserve in coronary stenting

Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the entire arterial network and especially the coronary arteries. It is an accumulation of lipids over the arterial surface due to a dysfunction of this latter. The objective of clinical intervention, in this case, is to establish a revascularization using different angioplasty techniques, among which the implantation of stents is the most widespread. This intervention involves introducing a stent into the damaged portion in order to allow the blood to circulate in a normal way over all the vessels. Revascularization is based on the principle of remedying ischemia, which is a decrease or an interruption of the supply of oxygen to the various organs. This anomaly is attenuated by the presence of several lesions (multivessel disease patients), which can lead to several complications. The key of a good medical intervention is the fact of establishing a good diagnosis, in order to decide which lesion requires to be treated. In the diagnosis phase, the clinician uses several techniques, among which angiography is the most popular. Angiography is an X-ray technique to show the inside (the lumen) of blood vessels, in order to identify vessel narrowing: stenosis. Despite its widespread use, angiography is often imperfect in determining the physiological significance of coronary stenosis. If the problem remains simple for non significant lesions (40%) or very severe ( 70%), a very important category of intermediate lesions must benefit from a functional evaluation which will determine the strategy of treatment   [90].

The technique of the Fractional Flow Reserve (FFR) has derived from the initial coronary physical approaches decades ago. Since then, many studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in improving the patients prognosis, by applying the appropriate approach. Its contribution in the reduction of mortality was statistically proved by the FAME (Fractional Flow Reserve Versus Angiography for Multivessel Evaluation) study   [169]. It is established that the FFR can be easily measured during coronary angiography by calculating the ratio of distal coronary pressure Pd to aortic pressure Pa. These pressures are measured simultaneously with a special guide-wire. FFR in a normal coronary artery equals to 1.0. FFR value of 0.80 or less identifies ischemia-causing coronary lesions with an accuracy of more than 90%   [169].

Obviously, from an interventional point of view, the FFR is binding since it is invasive. It should also be noted that this technique induces additional costs, which are not covered by insurances in several countries. For these reasons, it is used only in less than 10% of the cases.

In this perspective, a new virtual version of the FFR, entitled VFFR, has emerged as an attractive and non-invasive alternative to standard FFR, see   [161], [144]. VFFR is based on computational modeling, mainly fluid and fluid-structural dynamics. However, there are key scientific, logistic and commercial challenges that need to be overcome before VFFR can be translated into routine clinical practice.

While most of the studies related to VFFR use Navier-Stokes models, we focus on the non-newtonian case, starting with a generalized fluid flow approach. These models are more relevant for the coronary arteries, and we expect that the computation of the FFR should then be more accurate. We are also leading numerical studies to assess the impact (on the FFR) of the interaction of the physical devices (catheter, optical captors, spheroids) with the blood flow.