Congenital heart disease: improving treatment of babies and children born with heart defects | Children's Charity

Congenital heart disease: improving treatment of babies and children born with heart defects

This research was completed on 31 August 2016

Published on 12 February 2013

Around one in every 150 babies in the UK is born with a heart defect, a problem which doctors call congenital heart disease.1,2 Surgeons often use small devices called stents to treat heart defects, but existing stents are not ideal for use in babies and children. Dr J Tsui, of University College London, is developing a new type of stent that can be tailor made especially for individual babies and children. She hopes to improve both the outcome of treatment and children’s quality of life.

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Heart defects are one of the most common type of defects present at birth.2 Devices called stents are widely used to treat heart defects. Stents are small tubes that are placed inside blood vessels. If a blood vessel is narrow or blocked, they can help keep it open, improving blood flow. They can also help to support weak blood vessels, stopping them from bursting.

When treating babies and children with heart defects, stents that are currently available have drawbacks. For example, they can tear blood vessels, causing potentially fatal bleeding. They can cause blood to clot, meaning babies need extra medication for six to 12 months after the stent has been inserted. What’s more, the size of existing stents is relatively fixed once they’ve been inserted. As babies grow, their blood vessels grow with them, but the stent does not, which can lead to further problems.

What is the project trying to achieve?

“We are developing a new type of stent especially for babies and children who were born with heart defects,” explains Dr J Tsui. “We hope that our new stents will help overcome some important disadvantages of existing devices. For example, we are coating the new stents with a special material that’s designed to lower the risk of complications, such as bleeding or clot formation. The size of the new stents could also be increased throughout the child’s lifetime, meaning they could effectively grow with the child, something which isn’t possible at the moment.”

In this project, Dr J Tsui's team is designing the new stents and performing all of the laboratory work that is needed before tests can begin in babies and children. “Ultimately, we believe our new stents might stop some children from needing open heart surgery, speed up recovery times and reduce the risks of surgery,” explains Dr J Tsui.

Project LeaderDr J Tsui
Project team
  • Dr A Tzifa
  • Professor S Qureshi
  • Professor R Razavi
  • Miss Y Rafiei
  • Dr B Cousin
LocationDivision of Surgery & Interventional Science, The Royal Free Hospital, University College London, Paediatric Cardiology Department, Evelina Children’s Hospital, United Medical
Other locations
  • Dental School of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital and Division of Imaging Sciences, King's College London
Duration2 years
Grant awarded12 November 2012
Start date1 August 2013
End date31 August 2016
Grant amount£149,374.00
Grant codeGN2100

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1. British Heart Foundation, Congenital Heart Disease Website accessed 30 April 2013.

2. NHS Choices, Congenital Heart Disease. Website accessed 30 April 2013.

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