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Phys Fluids (1994). 2009 Jul;21(7):71903. Epub 2009 Jul 29.

Liquid plug propagation in flexible microchannels: A small airway model.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-2099, USA.


In the present study, we investigate the effect of wall flexibility on the plug propagation and the resulting wall stresses in small airway models with experimental measurements and numerical simulations. Experimentally, a flexible microchannel was fabricated to mimic the flexible small airways using soft lithography. Liquid plugs were generated and propagated through the microchannels. The local wall deformation is observed instantaneously during plug propagation with the maximum increasing with plug speed. The pressure drop across the plug is measured and observed to increase with plug speed, and is slightly smaller in a flexible channel compared to that in a rigid channel. A computational model is then presented to model the steady plug propagation through a flexible channel corresponding to the middle plane in the experimental device. The results show qualitative agreements with experiments on wall shapes and pressure drops and the discrepancies bring up interesting questions on current field of modeling. The flexible wall deforms inward near the plug core region, the deformation and pressure drop across the plug increase with the plug speed. The wall deformation and resulting stresses vary with different longitudinal tensions, i.e., for large wall longitudinal tension, the wall deforms slightly, which causes decreased fluid stress and stress gradients on the flexible wall comparing to that on rigid walls; however, the wall stress gradients are found to be much larger on highly deformable walls with small longitudinal tensions. Therefore, in diseases such as emphysema, with more deformable airways, there is a high possibility of induced injuries on lining cells along the airways because of larger wall stresses and stress gradients.

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