A Conversation with Lutz PauliCopyright: © Dr. Lutz Pauli
About Lutz Pauli
Lutz Pauli studied computational engineering science, CES for short, from 2006 to 2011 at RWTH Aachen. CES is nestled between the disciplines of mechanical engineering, mathematics, and computer science, leading Pauli to encounter interdisciplinary thinking early on.
During his doctoral studies at the Chair for Computational Analysis of Technical Systems, CATS for short, he expanded this method of thinking to include medical aspects. Here he works on the modeling and development of simulation methods for the flow behavior of blood in medical products.
Since completing his doctorate in 2016, he has been a postdoc at CATS. In this role he is head of the modeling structural unit in the Computation Science and Engineering, CompSE, Profile Area. In the future he will also support the AICES graduate school as a junior research group leader.
What are you currently researching and in what context is your research important?
In general I work on the development of software tools for simulating bloodflow. In contrast to traditional engineering disciplines, such as aerospace engineering, there is still a great need in this field to develop tailored modeling and calculation approaches that can be trusted in practice. For example at the Chair for Computational Analysis of Technical Systems, CATS for short, we are developing a new simulation model to assess blood damage in medical devices. This model is used, for example, in the development of cardiac support systems, small implantable blood pumps for patients with chronic heart disease.
What led to your stay at Stanford University (specifically your host institution Cardiovascular Biomechanics Computation Lab, CBCL)?
Up till now my research applications were in the development of medical devices. Professor Marsden and her team at CBCL in Stanford conduct patient-specific simulations on bloodflow. The aim is to better plan surgical treatments in pediatric surgery and improve methods in surgery. I believe the idea of integrating simulation processes possesses a lot of potential, which is why I wanted further training in this field. Thanks to the Theodore von Kármán Fellowship I had funding to pursue this training.
What exactly did you do during your research stay and what are the most important tangible results of your research stay?
On one hand it was my goal to learn the software tools used at CBCL. They are developing a software there with which a patient's blood vessels can be segemented from CT or MRI images to then simulate bloodflow in the vessels. I can now use this software for future projects. On the other hand, as a specialist for blood damage, I intensively worked with a new surgical method being researched at CBCL. It is a method for constructing a shunt for patients with single ventricle, who suffer from local high blood pressure after a Glenn procedure. A shunt is an artificial connection from the circulatory system of the body to the circulatory system of the lungs. I conducted blood damage assessments for various shunt geometries to investigate which geometry damages the blood the least.
What are your plans for further collaboration?
We had many ideas for future collaboration at the end of my stay. For the first collaboration we are submitting a project proposal with a company in Aachen, which is developing a new cardiac support system. In the project bloodflow in the heart will be analyzed by a computer in combination with an implanted blood pump. If the project receives funding, CBCL will assist us in calculating the flow of the heart.
In your opinion, is there something German universities can learn from those in the USA and vice versa?
I found the degree of interdisciplinarity at Stanford and specifically at CBCL remarkable. For example, there were monthly meetings with cardiologists from the university hospital, during which the progress of different research projects was discussed. The openness, with which both sides (engineers and doctors) communicated with each other, impressed me.
Interdisciplinary research is also a strength of RWTH. But the openness to actually living this interdisciplinarity could certainly grow. Hurdles have to be deconstructed for this to happen though. I much prefer the free access to education in Germany. Thanks to its high tuition fees Stanford has a higher capital to invest in research and education, but I personally would not have had the same educational opportunities in the American system as I did in the German system.
Can you name a highlight, experience, or moment of the stay, that has particularly stuck with you?
I particularly remember the moment I visited a small patient in cardiological intensive care in the pediatric ward. The patient was born with a heart defect and was being cared for with an artificial blood pump outside of the body due to its size. This system is the only one permitted for children in the USA. On one hand I was excited that these systems are on the market, keep children alive, and even give them a piece of everyday life back. On the other hand I was disappointed that we are unable to offer better systems. This experience was certainly not a highlight but a moment, in which there is a great deal of motivation for future research projects.
I would like to once again thank Professor Marsden for making the stay possible and for her time during the stay. I would also like to thank Professor Behr who relieved me of my responsibilities at the institute during my stay.
Dr. Pauli, thank you for the interview!