A composite smeared finite element for mass transport in capillary systems and biological tissue

Milos Kojic, M. Milosevic, V. Simic, Eugene J. Koay, J. B. Fleming, S. Nizzero, N. Kojic, Arturas Ziemys, Mauro Ferrari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


One of the key processes in living organisms is mass transport occurring from blood vessels to tissues for supplying tissues with oxygen, nutrients, drugs, immune cells, and – in the reverse direction – transport of waste products of cell metabolism to blood vessels. The mass exchange from blood vessels to tissue and vice versa occurs through blood vessel walls. This vital process has been investigated experimentally over centuries, and also in the last decades by the use of computational methods. Due to geometrical and functional complexity and heterogeneity of capillary systems, it is however not feasible to model in silico individual capillaries (including transport through the walls and coupling to tissue) within whole organ models. Hence, there is a need for simplified and robust computational models that address mass transport in capillary–tissue systems. We here introduce a smeared modeling concept for gradient-driven mass transport and formulate a new composite smeared finite element (CSFE). The transport from capillary system is first smeared to continuous mass sources within tissue, under the assumption of uniform concentration within capillaries. Here, the fundamental relation between capillary surface area and volumetric fraction is derived as the basis for modeling transport through capillary walls. Further, we formulate the CSFE which relies on the transformation of the one-dimensional (1D) constitutive relations (for transport within capillaries) into the continuum form expressed by Darcy's and diffusion tensors. The introduced CSFE is composed of two volumetric parts — capillary and tissue domains, and has four nodal degrees of freedom (DOF): pressure and concentration for each of the two domains. The domains are coupled by connectivity elements at each node. The fictitious connectivity elements take into account the surface area of capillary walls which belongs to each node, as well as the wall material properties (permeability and partitioning). The overall FE model contains geometrical and material characteristics of the entire capillary–tissue system, with physiologically measurable parameters assigned to each FE node within the model. The smeared concept is implemented into our implicit-iterative FE scheme and into FE package PAK. The first three examples illustrate accuracy of the CSFE element, while the liver and pancreas models demonstrate robustness of the introduced methodology and its applicability to real physiological conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-437
Number of pages25
JournalComputer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Biological tissue
  • Capillary system
  • Composite smeared finite element
  • Convection
  • Diffusion
  • Partitioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Computer Science Applications


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