Two Renowned Cardiovascular Experts Join University’s Computational Institute

Aug. 23, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — Two internationally recognized experts in the use of computer modeling and simulation to address heart disease and other complex health problems are joining The University of Texas at Austin’s faculty to help advance the university as a national leader in biomedicine.

George Biros, an expert on large-scale computer simulations in biomedicine, and Michael S. Sacks, a senior expert on cardiovascular biomechanics, will be part of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES) and the Cockrell School of Engineering.

Sacks will expand the use of computational simulation with medical images and biomechanical experimentation to develop new approaches for patient-specific predictive therapies to treat heart and valvular disease. He will hold a joint appointment in biomedical engineering.

Biros will focus on applying supercomputing technology to medical issues and further develop the mathematical formulas for creating computer simulations of society’s many grand challenges. He will hold a joint appointment in mechanical engineering.

“These two will bring additional strength to the prestigious group of ICES researchers dedicated to developing engineering approaches to solve critical problems in human health and medical science through computer modeling and simulation,” said J. Tinsley Oden, ICES director and associate vice president for research at the university.

Other national, statewide and local leaders in biomedicine anticipate that Biros and Sacks will be welcome partners in developing breakthrough answers to disease prevention and cure.

“ICES has certainly recruited two outstanding scientists,” said Dr. James T. Willerson, president of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, ranked among the top 10 heart hospitals in the nation. “The increasing sophistication of computer modeling provides unprecedented insight into clinical findings, and their work has a direct relevance to cardiovascular medicine and to medicine generally. We at the Texas Heart Institute are looking forward to close collaboration.”

Last year Biros led a team of researchers creating a simulation of blood flow that won the 2010 Gordon Bell Prize for the world’s fastest supercomputing application. Annually awarded by the Association for Computing Machinery, the prize is considered the computation industry’s pinnacle achievement each year. It was the second time he earned the award.

Biros’ work simulated 260 million deformable red blood cells flowing in plasma. The mathematical and computational infrastructure for his highly accurate simulations of blood will enable scientists and engineers to better understand such phenomena in blood flow as clotting, damage and drug transport.

He completed his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University in 2000 and comes to the university from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he was an associate professor in computational science and engineering, as well as biomedical engineering.

Sacks will maintain experimental and simulation laboratories as he studies the biomechanics of cardiac tissues. He was selected as one of the 2006 Scientific American 50 Leaders in Science and Technology for his research to create  “...a tissue-engineered replacement for damaged pulmonary valves and other soft tissues.”

In 2009 he received the Van C. Mow Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for his contributions to advancing research and education in biomechanical engineering. He will continue advanced biomechanical studies of cell, tissue and organ biomechanical interactions in native and engineered cardiac tissues, which have garnered the interest of the bioengineering and medical communities.

He is particularly interested in determining the mechanical environment of cells and how this modulates the body’s remodeling process. His recent work involves developing an understanding of the remodeling process in the heart’s right ventricle after pulmonary hypertension occurs. 

Sacks was formerly a professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Bioengineering. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in engineering mechanics from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. 

“The addition of George and Michael to our faculty greatly adds to the interdisciplinary research and collaboration taking place among faculty and students in engineering departments, mathematics and the sciences,” said Dean Gregory L. Fenves of the Cockrell School of Engineering.

Both professors will lead major research centers within the institute and hold newly endowed chairs created to attract computational engineers: the W. A. “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. Simulation-Based Engineering Science Chairs.

For more information, contact: Becky Rische, Institute for Computational Engineering and Science, 512 471 4978;  Maria McGivney Arrellaga, Executive Vice President & Provost, 512-475-8123.