Improving surgery for babies born with heart defects
Published on 8 June 2017
Research Training Fellowship*:Dr Emilie L Sauvage
Up to nine in every 1,000 babies in the UK are born with a heart defect, a problem which doctors call congenital heart disease.1 Some of these babies need complex surgery if they are to survive. Surgeons often use a piece of tissue, called a patch, to correct the shape of the heart or its vessels. Dr Emilie Sauvage, of University College London, is searching for ways to improve the success of this type of surgery, to give babies with heart defects the best possible chance of doing well after their operation and avoiding further complications throughout their lives.
How are babies’ lives affected now?
“My long-term goal is to improve surgery for babies born with cyanotic heart disease,” says Dr Sauvage.
Around one in every four babies born with a heart defect has this type of problem. It means the baby’s heart cannot pump blood to the lungs properly. Low oxygen levels in the blood can give the babies’ skin a blueish tinge, especially on the lips, fingers and toes.
Sadly, many of these babies’ problems are so severe they are life-threatening, meaning they need complex surgery.
“During operations, surgeons often enlarge or reshape abnormal parts of the heart by adding a ‘patch’ of specially engineered tissue,” says Dr Sauvage. “Even if surgery goes well, babies must keep seeing a heart specialist regularly, because they can still develop complications later on. For example, patches may become stiffer over time, or too small as the child grows, meaning further treatment is needed.”
We urgently need ways to improve this type of surgery.
How could this research help?
Dr Sauvage is creating computer simulations of the hearts of children who were born with cyanotic heart disease and using these simulations to study how changes in patch design – such as shape, size and material – affect blood flow through the heart. She is also using the computer models to predict how a child’s growth affects implanted patches.
“My work will improve understanding of how implanted patches affect the success of surgery for cyanotic heart disease,” says Dr Sauvage. “It could pave the way for the design of new, more personalised patches that perform better over time and cause fewer complications as children grow and develop. I hope to give doctors invaluable information on the best way to use these patches during heart surgery and give babies a better chance of doing well after their operation.”
1. NHS Choices. Congenital heart disease. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Congenital-heart-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx Website accessed 1 May 2017.
2. Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) Learning. Congenital Heart Disease. http://www.rcemlearning.co.uk/references/congenital-heart-disease/ Website accessed 5 May 2017.
|Project Leader||Dr E L Sauvage, PhD|
|Location||Centre for Cardiovascular Imaging, University College London (UCL) Institute of Cardiovascular Science, and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London|
|Grant awarded||14 February 2017|
|Start date||14 August 2017|
|End date||13 August 2020|
We do not provide medical advice. If you would like more information about a condition or would like to talk to someone about your health, contact NHS Choices or speak to your GP. Please see our useful links page for some links to health information, organisations we are working with and other useful organisations. We hope you will find these useful. We are not responsible for the content of any of these sites.
* Research Training Fellowships:
Each year, Action Medical Research awards these prestigious grants to help the brightest and best doctors and scientists develop their career in medical research.