2 February 2022

I enjoy applying mechanical engineering to the human body, says doctoral student

Anna Hrubanová chose biomechanics in high school | Autor: Jan Prokopius

The laws of mechanics are the same whether for metals and the human body. The whole field of biomechanics is based on the above premise and it has captivated another fresh doctoral student, Anna Hrubanová. She went to the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at BUT (Brno University of Technology) with the vision pursuing a career in her dream field and this year she won the Brno Ph.D. Talent Award for young researchers. The scholarship will allow her to focus on her research into arteries affected by atherosclerosis.

“Atherosclerosis affects several arteries in the body, I am specifically interested in the carotid arteries that supply the brain with blood,” explains Anna Hrubanová passionately the topic of her doctoral research. She receives samples of diseased arteries from the St. Anne’s University Hospital and whole arteries from autopsies at the Masaryk University.

What may sound morbid, on the contrary, has the potential to help many patients, although the road to its eventual practical use is still very long, as Anna confirms. “Doctors today decide on surgery based on the size of the stenosis. You can image stenosis as a narrowing of the diameter of an artery; in the case of arteries leading to the brain, an atheroma forms, which is a cyst inside the artery that gradually blocks it. And it happens that the atheroma ruptures before the patient is indicated to undergo surgery. The contents of the atheroma are washed into the blood and move through the bloodstream until the smaller arteries become blocked, leading to a stroke,” says Hrubanová, adding that the outlook for patients who suffer this is not good at all.

Ideally, we want to help identify patients at risk and send them for surgery before premature rupture of the atherosclerotic plaque occurs.

Anna’s research focuses on the mechanical properties of these arteries. “We are trying to find patterns that would help us to better describe the material, and we would then use this description in a computational model to predict the behaviour of an artery. Ideally, it could help identify patients at risk and send them for surgery before premature rupture of the atherosclerotic plaque occurs,” she adds.

Anna Hrubanová, this year’s Brno Ph.D. Talent | Autor: Jan Prokopius

In the laboratory, she stretches the artery samples and uses a tensile test to determine the material’s properties. “This is actually a standard method to determine the behaviour of any material. We try to use knowledge from traditional mechanics and apply it to humans. I am studying at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, we learned everything on metals and other technical materials, but now I am applying the same knowledge to the human body, and I am enjoying it quite a lot,” says Hrubanová, who after was deciding between medicine and mechanical engineering after finishing her high school studies and she was finally lured in by biomechanics at BUT, a field that is partly medicine, so to speak.

Anna, together with ten other young researchers from BUT, succeeded this year in the Brno Ph.D. Talent competition. Laureates receive a three-year scholarship so they can fully devote themselves to their research, which Anna appreciates. “I was incredibly happy about my success and it has given me further motivation for my doctoral study. I also appreciate the financial security that will allow me to truly focus on the research. Unfortunately, finances are probably the biggest issue that people deal with when deciding whether to pursue the doctor’s degree. It is not something you do for the money, but a scholarship simply would not sustain me. I think that science is losing a lot of promising young people, which is a pity, and I am very glad that Brno is organising the Ph.D Talent competition, which helps those who really want to pursue science,” Anna thinks.

And she would like to encourage others not to be afraid to do what they enjoy. “I did not believe I had a chance to succeed in the competition either, but I did after all. Things can always work out the right way, so it is worth at least trying,” she concludes.



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