Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in England and worldwide, and its incidence is likely to grow with aging populations and changing lifestyles in developing nations. The majority of strokes are caused by atherosclerosis, which is the depositing of lipid material including cholesterol on the artery wall. The deposit grows, but is sealed by a thin layer called the fibrous cap. If the fibrous cap ruptures, the lipid contents can be spilled into the bloodstream. The lipid causes the blood to clot, and can make a blockage downstream. If the blockage is in a vessel supplying the brain, a stroke can occur.
Graeham Douglas is a PhD student working between the Mechanics, Materials, and Design Division of the Department of Engineering and the Department of Radiology in the School of Clinical Medicine to understand this process. He is working with Dr. Michael Sutcliffe (Engineering) and Dr. Zhongzhao Teng (Radiology). Specifically, he is working on experiments and microscopic imaging techniques to understand the fracture mode, strength, and toughness of the fibrous cap. Collagen is the primary constituent of the fibrous cap, and it is predicted that the nature of the collagen network is responsible for the behaviour of the tissue as a whole. It is hoped that better understanding of the fracture process will lead to improved clinical decision making and perhaps may inspire novel treatments.