two puzzle pieces, one with a heart and one with a brain

$2.1m award will fund studies for adults with CHD and neurodevelopmental disorders

two puzzle pieces, one with a heart and one with a brain

The project will study the best engagement methods on how to include adults who have both congenital heart disease and neurodevelopmental disorders in the Congenital Heart Initiative (CHI), the first global, patient-powered registry for adults with congenital heart disease.

A first-of-its-kind study focused on including adults with congenital heart disease (CHD) and neurodevelopmental disabilities in patient-reported outcome research has been approved for $2.1 million in funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

The study, Achieving Equity: Inclusion of Adults with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Living with Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NDDs) in Patient Centered Outcomes Research, is led by Anitha John, M.D., Ph.D., at Children’s National Hospital, together with partners from a range of academic, scientific and patient advocacy perspectives.

What this means

The project will study the best engagement methods on how to include adults who have both congenital heart disease and neurodevelopmental disorders in the Congenital Heart Initiative (CHI), the first global, patient-powered registry for adults with congenital heart disease. In its current form, individuals with developmental disabilities are often excluded, as they are unable to complete the surveys independently.

Building upon Dr. John’s previous collaborations, the project features a shared leadership model with partners from across the United States.

Leading the study with Dr. John, William Bennett, M.D., (Indiana University) provides expertise in patient engagement research and big data and will serve as dual principal investigator (PI).

The project also utilizes the strengths and long-standing connections with PCORnet®, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, with Thomas Carton, Ph.D., (Louisiana Public Health Institute/REACHnet) serving as the PCORnet PI, Jamie Jackson, Ph.D., (Nationwide Children’s Hospital/PEDSnet) serving as a scientific PI with psychology expertise, Arwa Saidi, M.B.B.Ch., M.Ed., (University of Florida/OneFlorida) and Emily Ruckdeschel, M.D., (CHOP/PEDSnet) serving as recruiting site PIs.

The Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) continues as part of the leadership team, represented by two parent co-PIs along with the Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Collaborative (CNOC), represented by Thomas Miller, D.O., (Maine Medical) and CURA strategies, represented by Scott Leezer.

The study was selected for support through a groundbreaking PCORI funding announcement focused on building an evidence base to support development of measures and approaches that strengthen meaningful engagement in comparative clinical effectiveness research. Much has been learned in recent years about participatory research that seeks to involve the end users of study results, including patients, caregivers, clinicians and others, as partners in the research process. But there has been little systematic study about which engagement techniques are most effective.

Why it matters

Although nearly 2 million adults in the United States are living with a congenital heart defect — more adults than children — it has been historically difficult to gather data on people with these conditions and to identify patient needs, especially in those with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Despite significant investment in cardiac neurodevelopmental programs across North America, CNOC has identified large gaps in current infrastructure to provide a continuum of neurodevelopmental care into adulthood.

Even more challenging is ensuring that the data is representative of the entire population of people living with these conditions. According to a 2024 Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association, “Although not every individual with congenital heart disease will have a developmental delay or disorder, neurodevelopmental deficits rank among the most enduring and impactful complications faced by individuals with complex congenital heart disease.”

Unfortunately, this critical subgroup remains underrepresented even in inclusive efforts such as CHI. Currently to be eligible for the CHI, participants must be able to complete the CHI’s patient-reported outcome tools independently. Individuals with CHD and neurodevelopmental disorders are often ineligible to participate.

The lack of engagement methods to effectively incorporate patients with developmental disabilities presents a major gap in the science of engagement research that hinders a full understanding of the long-term outcomes of all patients with CHD.

What’s next

This work to engage and capture the experiences of the most vulnerable adults with CHD will be an important enhancement to the CHI and will build upon the work of an ongoing sub-study of the CHI that uses PCORnet®, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, the CHI-RON study (PCORI RD-2020C2-20347).

The award has been approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract.

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 2010. Its mission is to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed healthcare decisions.