Mathematics graduate models muscles

Chris Hatfield ’08
Chris Hatfield ’08

WILMORE, KY—Today when a person suffers from a heart attack, doctors likely do not know the extent of the damage unless they do surgery. Yet in many cases, surgery or other testing will yield very few results. One Asburian and his professor are looking at ways to determine how muscles like the heart contract and behave using computer simulation and mathematics.

Mathematics graduate Chris Hatfield ’08 and Dr. David Coulliette first started this project at the urging of Dr. Kenneth Campbell, a physiologist at the University of Kentucky who expressed a need to have physiology graduate students and post-doctoral students with a sufficient background in mathematics and programming to work on the muscle contraction modeling project. Dr. Coulliette suggested that Campbell work with one of his former students, Chris Hatfield, who has taken the lead with the project.

According to Dr. Coulliette, the goal of the project is to describe muscle contraction at a much finer detailed level that can be observed experimentally. If teams are able to create an accurate model, it can be used to explore serious muscle issues like cardiac weakness after a heart attack.

“Computational biology gives us faster, cheaper ways of testing and learning biology research,” Dr. Coulliette said. “In addition to cardiac damage, I have also seen math meeting used to test heart replacement valves. Instead of testing a bunch of designs with time-consuming animal tests, they reduced the designs to just a few with the computational model, then they did the animal tests.”

For Hatfield, working in a physiology lab came as a surprise. He recently spoke to one of Dr. Coulliette’s classes on the many careers for an individual with a mathematics degree. “Working in a physiology lab with a math background is kind of different, but the main thing I have learned is that most anything can be explained with the right amount of Math and Physics. It’s never over, there is always something to keep you researching. There is never a day where I don't learn something new.”

Hatfield graduated in 2008, but still calls on his professors to help him understand his work. He calls Dr. Coulliette his “go to guy” to help him find faster ways to solve the mathematically complex arithmetic within the simulation model. “First off the background in Physics and Math has help tremendously, but also the way to have faith in an environment has been a big help as well.”

While the project is still in progress, Hatfield hopes that his research will help people with diastolic heart failure or diabetes make a better recovery.


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