UCF Engineer Helping Unlock Secrets of Heart Disease, Cancer, Sleep Apnea, more

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on


Olusegun Ilegbusi is an engineering-in-medicine pioneer
 helping doctors understand the fluid dynamics of the heart, throat, and lungs, which ultimately will help patients battling heart disease, cancer, and sleep apnea, among others.

In collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, the professor conducted a study to answer the age-old question of why a heart attack is a silent killer. The study involved the integration of intra-vascular ultrasound imaging with computational fluid dynamics to determine when plaques in the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscles, are likely to break off and cause a heart attack. The study was the first time that the integrated approach was successfully used to characterize blood flow in the coronary artery and relate it to heart attack. The outcome of the research was utilized by major drug manufacturers to test the efficacy of their new drugs for heart disease.

“I take the human body as the ultimate engineering design,” Ilegbusi says. “I am excited by the challenge of utilizing engineering principles to unlock its mysteries. Such a formidable task requires the collaboration of multiple experts in diverse fields of medicine, engineering, computer science, materials science and advanced manufacturing.”

Olusegun Ilegbusi

Ilegbusi is just as passionate about teaching as he is about research. He was one of the first faculty members in the College of Engineering to adopt mixed-mode teaching and among the first to undergo online course delivery training. Ilegbusi also collaborated with Anand Santhanam ’06PhD – who he co-mentored and who is now a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles – to develop the first patient-specific artificial lung that breathes and deforms just like a real human lung. The team invented a deformable lung phantom to track cancer tumors in the lungs, which in turn enables radiation therapy to be targeted accurately with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissues. His work on lungs has most recently led to a new COVID-related project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which studies the behavior of virus-laden droplets and particles in the human airway and its impact on healthy lungs and may lead to death in severe cases.

The engineering professor is collaborating with others at UCF to develop novel tissue-equivalent materials and as well as novel advanced manufacturing techniques utilizing such materials for 3D printing of a variety of human organs.  The goal of this new research is to replicate the behavior of organs outside the human body to improve the treatment of associated diseases. His other new research is utilization of engineering mechanics for determination of the characteristics that make indolent (inactive) cancer cells suddenly become aggressive. This research is aimed at providing information to facilitate early diagnoses of such cancer cells and enable early intervention before they become aggressive.

Ilegbusi was born in Nigeria. He joined UCF in 2002 because the university provided him the opportunity to help start a research program in bioengineering. UCF offers a minor and master’s degree in biomedical engineering. Before joining UCF, he was a Professor at Northeastern University, and Principal Research faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has five patents and has authored and co-authored seven books and published more than 160 scientific papers in scholarly journals. He has numerous awards and has been a consultant to major corporations and organizations in the United States, Europe, and Japan. He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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