A healthy dose of chaos: Using fractal frameworks for engineering higher-fidelity biomedical systems

Anastasia Korolj, Hau Tieng Wu, Milica Radisic

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Optimal levels of chaos and fractality are distinctly associated with physiological health and function in natural systems. Chaos is a type of nonlinear dynamics that tends to exhibit seemingly random structures, whereas fractality is a measure of the extent of organization underlying such structures. Growing bodies of work are demonstrating both the importance of chaotic dynamics for proper function of natural systems, as well as the suitability of fractal mathematics for characterizing these systems. Here, we review how measures of fractality that quantify the dose of chaos may reflect the state of health across various biological systems, including: brain, skeletal muscle, eyes and vision, lungs, kidneys, tumours, cell regulation, skin and wound repair, bone, vasculature, and the heart. We compare how reports of either too little or too much chaos and fractal complexity can be damaging to normal biological function, and suggest that aiming for the healthy dose of chaos may be an effective strategy for various biomedical applications. We also discuss rising examples of the implementation of fractal theory in designing novel materials, biomedical devices, diagnostics, and clinical therapies. Finally, we explain important mathematical concepts of fractals and chaos, such as fractal dimension, criticality, bifurcation, and iteration, and how they are related to biology. Overall, we promote the effectiveness of fractals in characterizing natural systems, and suggest moving towards using fractal frameworks as a basis for the research and development of better tools for the future of biomedical engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number119363
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Biomedical engineering
  • Chaos
  • Fractals
  • Health
  • Pathophysiology
  • Tissue engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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