A combined three-dimensional in vitro-in silico approach to modelling bubble dynamics in decompression sickness.
Walsh C., Stride E., Cheema U., Ovenden N.
The growth of bubbles within the body is widely believed to be the cause of decompression sickness (DCS). Dive computer algorithms that aim to prevent DCS by mathematically modelling bubble dynamics and tissue gas kinetics are challenging to validate. This is due to lack of understanding regarding the mechanism(s) leading from bubble formation to DCS. In this work, a biomimetic in vitro tissue phantom and a three-dimensional computational model, comprising a hyperelastic strain-energy density function to model tissue elasticity, were combined to investigate key areas of bubble dynamics. A sensitivity analysis indicated that the diffusion coefficient was the most influential material parameter. Comparison of computational and experimental data revealed the bubble surface's diffusion coefficient to be 30 times smaller than that in the bulk tissue and dependent on the bubble's surface area. The initial size, size distribution and proximity of bubbles within the tissue phantom were also shown to influence their subsequent dynamics highlighting the importance of modelling bubble nucleation and bubble-bubble interactions in order to develop more accurate dive algorithms.