Variations in properties, active behavior, injury, scarring, and/or disease can all cause a tissue’s mechanical behavior to be heterogeneous. Advances in imaging technology allow for accurate full-field displacement tracking of both in vitro and in vivo deformation from an applied load. While detailed strain fields provide some insight into tissue behavior, material properties are usually determined by fitting stress-strain behavior with a constitutive equation. However, the determination of the mechanical behavior of heterogeneous soft tissue requires a spatially varying constitutive equation (i.e. one in which the material parameters vary with position). We present an approach that computationally dissects the sample domain into many homogeneous subdomains, wherein subdomain boundaries are formed by applying a betweenness based graphical analysis to the deformation gradient field to identify locations with large discontinuities.
This novel partitioning technique successfully determined the shape, size and location of regions with locally similar material properties for: (1) a series of simulated soft tissue samples prescribed with both abrupt and gradual changes in anisotropy strength, prescribed fiber alignment, stiffness, and nonlinearity, (2) tissue analogs (PDMS and collagen gels) which were tested biaxially and speckle tracked (3) and soft tissues which exhibited a natural variation in properties (cadaveric supraspinatus tendon), a pathologic variation in properties (thoracic aorta containing transmural plaque), and active behavior (contracting cardiac sheet). The routine enables the dissection of samples computationally rather than physically, allowing for the study of small tissues specimens with unknown and irregular inhomogeneity.