Emphysema is a progressive lung disease that involves permanent destruction of the alveolar walls. Fluid mechanics in the pulmonary region and how they are altered with the presence of emphysema are not well understood. Much of our understanding of the flow fields occurring in the healthy pulmonary region is based on idealized geometries, and little attention has been paid to emphysemic geometries. The goal of this research was to utilize actual replica lung geometries to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that govern fluid motion and particle transport in the most distal regions of the lung and to compare the differences that exist between healthy and emphysematous lungs. Excised human healthy and emphysemic lungs were cast, scanned, graphically reconstructed, and used to fabricate clear, hollow, compliant models. Three dimensional flow fields were obtained experimentally using stereoscopic particle image velocimetry techniques for healthy and emphysematic breathing conditions. Measured alveolar velocities ranged over two orders of magnitude from the duct entrance to the wall in both models. Recirculating flow was not found in either the healthy or the emphysematic model, while the average flow rate was three times larger in emphysema as compared to healthy. Diffusion dominated particle flow, which is characteristic in the pulmonary region of the healthy lung, was not seen for emphysema, except for very small particle sizes. Flow speeds dissipated quickly in the healthy lung (60% reduction in 0.25 mm) but not in the emphysematic lung (only 8% reduction 0.25 mm). Alveolar ventilation per unit volume was 30% smaller in emphysema compared to healthy. Destruction of the alveolar walls in emphysema leads to significant differences in flow fields between the healthy and emphysemic lung. Models based on replica geometry provide a useful means to quantify these differences and could ultimately improve our understanding of disease progression.

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