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Biomechanics for Women’s Reproductive Health

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Tuesday, March 05, 2024
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Raffaella De Vita, PhD
DEIC Seminar


The vagina is a complex fibromuscular organ undergoing astonishing transformations during important physiological functions such as conception, pregnancy, and delivery. The remodeling and deformations of this organ have yet to be characterized, despite their impact on women's health. This talk delves into the ongoing research in the STRETCH lab at Virginia Tech, combining advanced experimental, theoretical, and computational methods to unravel the unique mechanics and complex microstructure of the vagina. We have experimentally characterized the highly inhomogeneous deformations of the vagina in both the relaxed and contracted states using digital imaging correlation and biaxial tensile testing methods. Large initial deformations, followed by smaller deformations under sustained load, reveal the inherent viscoelasticity of vaginal tissue. Even in the presence of tears, the vagina exhibits significant deformations, with collagen fibers reorienting to prevent tear propagation. Higher contractions occur in the longitudinal direction, closer to the cervix due to the smooth muscle fiber organization. Advanced MRI technology has enabled in vivo measurements of the overall increase in size of the vagina during pregnancy. To complement experimental efforts, we have developed data-driven reduced-order models of vaginal deformations, balancing accuracy with computational speed. Future research will explore how mechanical and microstructural properties of the vagina change in pathological conditions such as sexual dysfunction, maternal trauma, and pelvic organ prolapse. This work will advance the field of women's reproductive health, potentially leading to improved diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.