Section: Application Domains

Respiratory tracts

Breathing, or “external” respiration (“internal” respiration corresponds to cellular respiration) involves gas transport though the respiratory tract with its visible ends, nose and mouth. Air streams then from the pharynx down to the trachea. Food and drink entry into the trachea is usually prevented by the larynx structure (epiglottis). The trachea extends from the neck into the thorax, where it divides into right and left main bronchi, which enter the corresponding lungs (the left being smaller to accommodate the heart). Inhaled air is then convected in the bronchus tree which ends in alveoli, where gaseous exchange occurs. Surfactant reduces the surface tension on the alveolus wall, allowing them to expand. Gaseous exchange relies on simple diffusion on a large surface area over a short path between the alveolus and the blood capillary under concentration gradients between alveolar air and blood. The lungs are divided into lobes (three on the right, two on the left) supplied by lobar bronchi. Each lobe of the lung is further divided into segments (ten segments of the right lung and eight of the left). Inhaled air contains dust and debris, which must be filtered, if possible, before they reach the alveoli. The tracheobronchial tree is lined by a layer of sticky mucus, secreted by the epithelium. Particles which hit the side wall of the tract are trapped in this mucus. Cilia on the epithelial cells move the mucous continually towards the nose and mouth.

Each lung is enclosed in a space bounded below by the diaphragm and laterally by the chest wall and the mediastinum. The air movement is achieved by alternately increasing and decreasing the chest pressure (and volume). When the airspace transmural pressure rises, air is sucked in. When it decreases, airspaces collapse and air is expelled. Each lung is surrounded by a pleural cavity, except at its hilum where the inner pleura give birth to the outer pleura. The pleural layers slide over each other. The tidal volume is nearly equal to 500 ml.

The lungs may fail to maintain an adequate supply of air. In premature infants surfactant is not yet active. Accidental inhalation of liquid or solid and airway infection may occur. Chronic obstructive lung diseases and lung cancers are frequent pathologies and among the three first death causes in France.

One of the goals of REO team in the ventilation field is to visualize the airways (virtual endoscopy) and simulate flow in image-based 3D models of the upper airways (nose, pharynx, larynx) and the first generations of the tracheobronchial tree (trachea is generation 0), whereas simple models of the small bronchi and alveoli are used (reduced-basis element method, fractal homogenization, multiphysics homogenization, lumped parameter models), in order to provide the flow distribution within the lung segments.