Personalising surgery for babies with a serious heart disease
Published on 29 September 2015
Around one in every 5,000 babies is born with a serious heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS).1 They all need a series of lifesaving operations during the first few years of life. The severity of HLHS varies and it’s not clear which surgical technique works best in each situation, for each individual baby. Dr Pablo Lamata, of King’s College London, is developing better ways to predict how each baby will respond to surgery, so doctors can plan the best approach for them. Personalising treatment should improve babies’ chances of surviving and enjoying the best possible quality of life.
Action Medical Research and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity are jointly funding this research.
How are babies’ lives affected now?
Without treatment, babies with HLHS quickly become seriously ill. The left side of their heart is much smaller than usual and cannot pump enough blood to the body. Early symptoms include problems breathing, a weak pulse and blueish skin.
Less than four decades ago, babies with HLHS normally died within just weeks of birth. Improvements in surgery have given babies a much better chance of surviving and living a relatively normal life. Sadly, though, some babies still lose their lives and others have ongoing health problems.
“Babies with HLHS normally have three complex operations – the first when they’re less than two weeks old,” says Dr Lamata. “Planning these operations is difficult, because there’s little evidence as to exactly which surgical technique would work best for each child at each stage. Research into the pros and cons of each technique is needed urgently.”
How could this research help?
Dr Lamata’s team is analysing MRI scans of over 150 babies with HLHS, using specially created computer techniques, to generate a virtual 3D model – or avatar – of each baby’s heart and its major vessel, the aorta.
These personalised models show the shape of each baby’s heart and aorta, and the way blood flows, which reveals how well the baby’s heart is working.
“By comparing virtual 3D models of babies’ hearts before and after surgery, we hope to reveal the benefits and drawbacks of different surgical techniques,” says Dr Lamata. “We also hope to develop ways to predict how each surgical approach is likely to benefit individual babies over the long term.”
“Ultimately, we hope our work will give surgeons the tools they need to select the best treatment plan for each baby,” adds Dr Lamata. “This could improve babies’ chances of surviving and having the best possible quality of life during childhood and beyond.”
1. Khairy P et al. Univentricular heart. Circulation. 2007; 115(6): 800-12.
|Project Leader||Dr Pablo Lamata PhD Eng, MSc|
|Location||Department of Biomedical Engineering, King's College London|
|Grant awarded||22 July 2015|
|Start date||1 September 2015|
|End date||28 February 2018|
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