Preterm birth affects approximately ten percent of pregnancies and rates of maternal mortality in the US are rising. Computational investigations of pregnancy have great potential to explore fundamental aspects of reproductive physiology that are otherwise difficult or even impossible to investigate in humans. There are few-to-no good animal models of human pregnancy, and the reasonable ethical restrictions on experimentation with pregnant women limit clinical research. This talk will discuss how image-based computational modeling techniques can be used across length-scales to study different aspects of human pregnancy. Examples considered will include (a) models of individual collagen fibrils in preterm fetal membrane rupture, (b) maternal-fetal oxygen transport in the placenta, and (c) stresses in C-section scars at risk of rupture in subsequent pregnancies. With the recent worldwide attention given to poor maternal and fetal outcomes, fundamental bioengineering research into the mechanisms of preterm birth is timely and necessary. Computational models—including even full ‘digital twin’ models of pregnant persons—present a unique opportunity to advance an under-studied branch of medicine with significant financial and societal implications.
Michelle Oyen has a background in materials and biomechanics and has worked on many problems within tissue mechanics and biomimetic materials. For over twenty years, she has had an increasing interest in pregnancy and women’s health research, particularly in engineering approaches for prevention of and intervention into preterm birth.
Prior to joining the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis in January, 2022, she was a member of the faculty at the Cambridge University Engineering Department in Cambridge, UK (2006-2018) and at East Carolina University (2018-2021).