Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department



Dean, Delphine

Committee Member

Nagatomi , Jiro

Committee Member

DesJardins , John

Committee Member

Dean , Brian


The goal of this work is to better understand the relationship between the structure and function of biological cells by simulating their nonlinear mechanical behavior under static and dynamic loading using image structure-based finite element modeling (FEM). Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) are chosen for this study due to the strong correlation of the geometric arrangement of their structural components on their mechanical behavior and the implications of that behavior on diseases such as atherosclerosis.
VSMCs are modeled here using a linear elastic material model together with truss elements, which simulate the cytoskeletal fiber network that provides the cells with much of their internal structural support. Geometric characterization of single VSMCs of two physiologically relevant phenotypes in 2D cell culture is achieved using confocal microscopy in conjunction with novel image processing techniques. These computer vision techniques use image segmentation, 2D frequency analysis, and linear programming approaches to create representative 3D model structures consisting of the cell nucleus, cytoplasm, and actin stress fiber network of each cell. These structures are then imported into MSC Patran for structural analysis with Marc. Mechanical characterization is achieved using atomic force microscopy (AFM) indentation. Material properties for each VSMC model are input based on values individually obtained through experimentation, and the results of each model are compared against those experimental values. This study is believed to be a significant step towards the viability of finite element models in the field of cellular mechanics because the geometries of the cells in the model are based on confocal microscopy images of actual cells and thus, the results of the model can be compared against experimental data for those same cells.

Included in

Biomechanics Commons