Professor Receives $1.35 Million NIH RO1 Grant to Model Blood Flow in Diabetic Retinopathy

Red blood cell flow in a retinal capillary vessel network simulated by Prof. Bagchi’s PhD student Saman Ebrahimi.

Study to generate metrics for early detection of a leading cause of blindness in adults

Diabetic retinopathy caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, with the National Eye Institute projecting that nearly 15 million adults in the United States will be suffering from this disease by 2050.

Prosenjit Bagchi, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has received a $1.35 million National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant (NIH RO1) funded by the National Eye Institute. The Research Project Grant (R01) is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by NIH. The R01 provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH. 

The project aims to understand and identify the  hemodynamic mechanisms underlying the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy. It is, according to Bagchi, the first systematic study of the role of altered red blood cell biophysics in retinal hemodynamics.

Diabetes can change the biophysical properties of blood cells and retinal blood vessel structure. Over the course of the four-year project, Bagchi will develop a high-fidelity computational model of  retinal blood flow abnormalities that will address a “critical knowledge gap in understanding the relationship between the hemodynamics of diabetic blood cells, retinal vessel  structure, and the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy,” according to his research strategy.

“The model will predict changes in blood flow during initiation and progression of diabetic retinopathy, as well as the role of blood flow alteration in the progression of the disease,” Bagchi explains.

His research process is highly multidisciplinary, as it lies at the interface of engineering, computational science, biomedical science, and physics.

“By elucidating the role of hemodynamics in the disease, the model will provide detailed, reliable hemodynamic-based metrics to enable early detection, clinical diagnosis, and treatment,” says Bagchi.

While he notes that his current NIH RO1 study “is more fundamental science in nature, with a main thrust of how altered properties of diabetic red blood cells may contribute to the changes in blood flow and initiation of retinopathy,” it will build on his other computational modeling projects.

“I have spent over a decade working on building models of red blood cell flow in capillary blood vessels using National Science Foundation-funded projects,” he reports.

Although small blood vessels in the retina can be imaged non-invasively, their organization is very complex, which makes the blood flow prediction quite challenging. Bagchi’s NIH RO1 award will enable him to explore this new application of his model, while also supporting his team members.