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Virtual lung models every breath you take - and its impact

RICHLAND, Wash. - A virtual lung model developed at the Department of Energys Pacific Northwest National Laboratory may help predict the impact of pollutants on respiratory systems and provide new insights into asthma, a condition afflicting 15 million American adults, as well as other pulmonary diseases.

The computer model, called the virtual respiratory tract, provides an unprecedented, three-dimensional view of how pollutants enter, travel through and collect in the entire respiratory system. PNNLs prototype system models the nose, larynx and lungs of a rat. Efforts are underway to similarly model the respiratory systems of monkeys and humans.

Understanding biological impacts from pollution has become more important as respiratory ailments have increased, as evidenced by the nearly doubling of asthma sufferers since 1980. By learning how particulates travel through the lungs, scientists can design treatments that more precisely target drug delivery for pulmonary diseases. And, they can study how pollutants impact lungs of healthy people compared with those who suffer from respiratory ailments.

We designed a tool that will open up new possibilities for understanding how our environment affects our bodies, said Rick Corley, principal investigator and a PNNL environmental toxicologist. The virtual respiratory tract is a major accomplishment in modeling biological systems. It will be the springboard for detailed modeling of the bodys organs as a complete system.

Using the virtual respiratory tract, PNNL scientists can analyze the influence of various factors, such as the amount of pollutants or length of exposure, on healthy versus diseased lungs by manipulating the computer model. For example, they can begin to simulate how gases, vapors and particulates may act differently within lungs of people suffering from cystic fibrosis, emphysema and asthma.

The model is sufficiently detailed to track individual particle
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Contact: Staci Maloof
staci.maloof@pnl.gov
509-372-6313
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
27-Sep-2001


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