Engineering Professor to Unlock Science Behind Motherhood
National Science Foundation Award to be Used for Study That Examines Breastfeeding
April 24, 2015
Dr. Fatemeh Hassanipour
While the topic of fluid dynamics has always interested Dr. Fatemeh Hassanipour, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas, motherhood brought women’s health issues to the forefront: Specifically, she became curious about the mechanics of breastfeeding.
Now, that curiosity has landed her a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which provides $500,000 in funding over five years for her research.
“I saw a great need for research explaining the scientific and engineering principles governing the lactating breast,” Hassanipour said. “Millions of individuals are affected by health outcomes, all linked to the anomalies of transport processes in the human breast. For example, lactation problems have a profound and long-lasting impact on the broader health outcomes of the society: Breastfeeding has a solidly documented positive effect on the lifetime health of infants, as well as positive correlation with the health of the mother. Despite the scientific importance and impact on public health, processes in the human breast have not been comprehensively studied, and are currently not well-understood.”
The proposed CAREER project addresses the gap in scientific knowledge.
“The health of most living organisms depends critically on the transport of bio-fluids within and between organs. In particular, any disruption or deficiency in bio-fluid transport can result in various diseases in the human body. Therefore, understanding biotransport has a crucial role in the advancement of science as well as bioengineering,” she said.
“ In particular, any disruption or deficiency in bio-fluid transport can result in various diseases in the human body. Therefore, understanding biotransport has a crucial role in the advancement of science as well as bioengineering.”
Hassanipour plans to use computerized models and to build a fully controlled model of the breast to mimic breastfeeding and to study and experiment with the breast ductal system.
For access to clinical data, Hassanipour is collaborating with the Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group from the University of Western Australia.
“The Hartmann group is providing invaluable data, including suckling pressure during breastfeeding, milk intake measurements and ultrasound images from the breast and from infants’ oral cavities,” she said.
The final piece of the project will be to study mathematically what happens when caffeine, alcohol or other foreign substances move from the blood flow to the milk glands.
“The exact nature of this milk-blood diffusion in the gland tissues is still unknown,” Hassanipour said.
The project, while contributing to a body of knowledge, also has the possibility to attract the attention of female students and researchers.
Bringing more females into the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has been a driving passion for Hassanipour over the years. She has continuously worked with the University’s Young Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Investigators program, which is sponsored by UT Dallas’ Carolyn Lipshy Galerstein Women’s Center and the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement. The Young WISE Investigators program aims to inspire and encourage Dallas-area female high school students to pursue STEM careers through a yearlong research project.