Design, Construction, and Validation of a Planar Biaxial Device for Mechanical Testing of Soft Tissue
Soft tissue mechanics attempts to describe biological tissues such as skin, tendon, and the reproductive organs using concepts found in mechanical engineering. By approaching soft tissues using this framework, the complex biomechanical response of such tissues, which have been implicated in the development of disease and injury, can be ascertained and quantified. Robust mechanical tests, in which tissue stress-strain behavior is characterized, are needed in order to inform constitutive models of healthy and diseased tissue. The overall objective of this thesis was to design, construct, program, and validate a planar biaxial device capable of testing soft tissues. Improvements and redesigns were made to the device to better suit the nature of testing required for soft tissue. Custom grips, modules, and software were developed and fabricated to facilitate accurate biaxial mechanical tests. Optimized for testing of small soft tissues, the biaxial device is an evolution of the standard approach towards mechanical testing. The overall device and the individual systems were validated internally and externally. Pilot studies were conducted on murine skin, compared to existing data from literature, and observed to correspond with known stress-strain and load-displacement properties. Further, experimental protocols were developed to evaluate the biaxial behavior of soft tissues, including cervical, uterine, vaginal, and uterosacral ligament tissue. Studies were described in which experimental data could be used to establish structure-function relationships describing reproductive tissue. Results from these studies could be used to elucidate the underlying mechanical etiologies of preterm birth and pelvic organ prolapse.