Tag Archive for: congenital heart disease

Mary Donofrio

Mary Donofrio, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FASE, named as The Van Metre Companies Professor of Fetal Cardiology

Mary Donofrio

Children’s National Hospital named Mary Donofrio, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FASE, as The Van Metre Companies Professor of Fetal Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital.

Children’s National Hospital named Mary Donofrio, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FASE, as The Van Metre Companies Professor of Fetal Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital.

Dr. Donofrio serves as Medical Director of the Prenatal Cardiology Program and Critical Care Delivery Program, Director of the Advanced Cardiac Imaging Fellowship and Co-Director of the Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcome Program at Children’s National. She is a Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University and is the founding and current President of the Fetal Heart Society, a non-profit organization created to advance the field of fetal cardiovascular care and science through collaborative research, education and mentorship.

About the award

Dr. Donofrio joins a distinguished group of 41 Children’s National physicians and scientists who hold an endowed chair. Professorships at Children’s National support groundbreaking work on behalf of children and their families and foster new discoveries and innovations in pediatric medicine. These appointments carry prestige and honor that reflect the recipient’s achievements and donor’s forethought to advance and sustain knowledge.

Dr. Donofrio is an international expert in fetal cardiology. She specializes in the fetal diagnosis and assessment of cardiovascular disease and the in-utero and delivery room management of newborns with complex congenital heart disease (CHD). Dr. Donofrio created an evidenced-based risk-assessment protocol for delivery room management which is now the standard of care for newborns with CHD. Dr. Donofrio has been a co-investigator on several NIH sponsored studies assessing in utero factors that influence neurodevelopmental outcome in children with CHD and more recently a study designed to minimize brain injury during heart surgery using cardiopulmonary bypass. She has published more than 130 papers, including the American Heart Association Scientific Statement on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Fetal Cardiac Disease.

The Van Metre Companies, through their vision and generosity, are ensuring that Dr. Donofrio and future holders of this professorship will launch bold, new initiatives to rapidly advance the field of fetal cardiology, elevate our leadership and improve the lifetimes of children with special hearts.

About the donors

For the past 65 years, Van Metre Companies has remained one of the Greater Washington D.C. area’s most successful, private, multi-faceted real estate developers. Albert G. Van Metre, the founder of Van Metre Companies, established a tradition of philanthropy focused on local charities. As a homegrown business, perpetuating that legacy of local giving is both a responsibility and a source of pride. The Van Metre Companies Professor of Fetal Cardiology honors Albert G. Van Metre’s memory by continuing this tradition of commitment to the community they call home.

The Van Metre Companies hosts the Annual Van Metre 5K Run in support of Children’s National, a longstanding tradition that has raised nearly $3 million in the past 30 years. In 2010, Children’s National dedicated the Van Metre Companies Cardiovascular Surgery Operating Room, a state-of-the-art cardiovascular surgery suite which was funded through the Annual Van Metre 5K Run. They also established The Van Metre Companies Professorship in Cardiology held by Charles Berul, M.D., Chief of Cardiology and Co-director of Children’s National Heart Institute.

 

caspase molecule

Caspases may link brain cell degeneration and cardiac surgery

caspase molecule

The review summarizes both the known physiological roles of caspases as well as some of the well-characterized neurotoxic effects of anesthetics in pre-clinical models.

A review article in the journal Cell Press: Trends in Neuroscience outlines the wide variety of cellular signaling roles for caspase proteins — a type of cellular enzyme best known for its documented role in the natural process of cell death (apoptosis). The authors, including Nemanja Saric, Ph.D., Kazue Hashimoto-Torii, Ph.D., and Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., all from Children’s National Research Institute, pay particular attention to what the scientific literature shows about caspases’ non-apoptotic roles in the neurons specifically. They also highlight research showing how, when activated during a cardiac surgery with anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass, these enzymes may contribute to the degeneration of brain cells seen in young children who undergo heart surgery for critical congenital heart defects (CHDs).

Why it matters

The review summarizes both the known physiological roles of caspases as well as some of the well-characterized neurotoxic effects of anesthetics in pre-clinical models.

The authors propose that these non-apoptotic activities of caspases may be behind some of the adverse effects on the developing brain related to cardiac surgery and anesthesia. Those adverse effects are known to increase risk of behavioral impairments in children with congenital heart disease who underwent cardiac surgery with both anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass at a very young age.

This work is the first to propose a possible link between developmental anesthesia neurotoxicity and caspase-dependent cellular responses.

The patient benefit

Better understanding of the time and dose-dependent effects of general anesthetics on the developing brain, particularly in children who have genetic predispositions to conditions such as CHDs, will help researchers understand their role (if any) in behavioral problems often encountered by these patients after surgery.

If found to be a contributing factor, perhaps new therapies to mitigate this caspase activity might be explored to alleviate some of these adverse effects on the developing brain.

What’s next?

The authors hope to stimulate more in-depth research into caspase signaling events, particularly related to how these signaling events change when an anesthetic is introduced. Deeper understanding of how anesthetics impact caspase activation in the developing brain will allow for better assessments of the risk for children who need major surgery early in life.

Children’s National leads the way

Children’s National Hospital leads studies funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to better understand how these other roles of caspases, which until now have not been well-documented, may contribute to brain cell degeneration when activated by prolonged anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass during cardiac surgery for congenital heart disease.

doctor listening to patients heart

Children’s National leads patient-centered study of adult congenital heart disease

doctor listening to patients heart

The team will work with the 14 research institutions across the United States to collect data and then examine rates of complications or associated illnesses, as well as how adult patients have accessed health care throughout their lives.

Investigators at Children’s National Hospital and the Louisiana Public Health Institute are leading a $4.9 million research effort to study how gaps in health care affect the health and well-being of adults with congenital heart disease (CHD), supported by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

The research is led by Anitha John, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Washington Adult Congenital Heart Program at Children’s National Hospital and Thomas Carton, Ph.D., chief data officer at the Louisiana Public Health Institute, as well as two patient co-investigators, Ruth Phillippi and Scott Leezer. The study leads also include representatives from the Adult Congenital Heart Association and Anu Agarwal, M.D., who represents the University of California – San Francisco (UCSF).

“With the increasing number of adult patients with CHD, it is important for us to understand how current recommended practices influence patient outcomes,” says Dr. John. “This project will guide us on how to best care for our patients, not just through childhood, but across their entire lifespans. Most importantly, this project will involve direct outreach to patients, incorporating patient reported outcomes as a measure of long-term outcomes.”

Together, the team will work with the 14 research institutions across the United States to collect data and then examine rates of complications or associated illnesses, as well as how adult patients have accessed health care throughout their lives. The findings may help predict which patients are at greater risk of falling out of routine health care, and when these gaps in care are likely to occur across a patient’s lifespan. The study will also correlate findings with how patients are actually feeling in their everyday lives.

The 14 participating institutions are:

  • Ochsner Health
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • University of California – San Francisco
  • Nationwide Children’s Hospital
  • Duke University Health System
  • NYU Grossman School of Medicine
  • Nicklaus Children’s Hospital
  • Children’s Hospital Colorado
  • University of Miami
  • Columbia University Irving Medical Center
  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
  • Weill Cornell Medical College
  • University of Florida

“This unprecedented look at the health of adults living with congenital heart disease allows us to get a full spectrum view by combining clinical data with patient-reported health data,” says Dr. Carton.

The first patient-powered registry for adults with CHD — the Congenital Heart Initiative (CHI) is a key component of this research. Launched with seed funding from Children’s National and the Heart Research Alliance at UCSF, the CHI is led by Dr. John and her team at Children’s National in addition to a broad multi-stakeholder advisory board, including patients. The CHI was co-developed with input from patients, clinicians and researchers and continues to involve these voices in the advancement of the registry. Patients who are recruited for this research will participate via enrollment in the registry, which will allow researchers to ask patients directly about health, wellness and any specific barriers to care. Learn more about CHI’s progress in their first annual report.

“Patients, like myself, are charting a new course and we desire answers to significant questions, as do our providers, about impact of lifelong specialized care, along with improved understanding of the quality-of-life patients experience,” says Leezer. “This project represents a huge step forward towards obtaining answers for the adult CHD community.”

The study also draws on the vast health data resources of PCORnet®, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Institute, to conduct this study more efficiently. With health records for 66 million patients available for observational studies, the PCORI-funded PCORnet provides vast scale to power research on conditions affecting even small numbers of people.

“We are confident that this research will yield critical learnings that will empower the community, align resources and spur future innovation to better meet the specialized care needs of this emerging population,” says Mark Roeder, president and chief executive officer for the Adult Congenital Heart Association.

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians and other health care decision makers with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed health care choices.

brain network illustration

Cardiopulmonary bypass may cause significant changes to developing brain and nerve cells

brain network illustration

Cardiopulmonary bypass, more commonly known as heart-and-lung bypass, has some unique impacts on the creation and growth of brain cells in the area of a child’s brain called the subventricular zone (SVZ), according to a study in the Annals of Neurology. The SVZ is a critical area for the growth and migration of neurons and nerve cells called neuroblasts, both of which ultimately contribute to the proper development of key brain structures and functions during the early years of life.

The findings, from a study conducted in the Cardiac Surgery Research Laboratory at Children’s National Hospital, provide new insight into the cellular impacts of the cardiopulmonary bypass machine on brain growth and development for newborn infants with congenital heart disease. They will have an important role in the refinement of strategies to help protect the fragile brains of children who require lifesaving cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass immediately after birth.

Specifically, the research team found that during cardiopulmonary bypass:

  • Creation of neurons (neurogenesis) in the neonatal and infant subventricular zone is altered.
  • Migration of nerve cells, called neuroblasts, to the frontal lobe is potentially disrupted.
  • Changes to the growth and movement of neurons in the SVZ are prolonged.
  • Cortical development and expansion is impaired.
  • Specific types of neurons found only in the brain and spinal cord, called interneurons, are also affected.

The study uses an innovative pre-clinical model of the developing brain that is more anatomically and physiologically similar to human neonates and infants than those used in prior studies and in most neurological laboratory-based research.

Cardiopulmonary bypass is one of several key factors thought to cause children with congenital heart disease to sometimes demonstrate delays in the development of cognitive and motor skills. These disabilities often persist into adolescence and adulthood and can ultimately represent long-term neurocognitive disabilities. It is also believed that genetic factors, abnormal blood flow to the brain while in utero or low cardiac output after surgical procedures on the heart may contribute to these challenges.

“Unraveling cellular and molecular events during surgery using this preclinical model will allow us to design therapeutic approaches that can be restorative or reparative to the neurogenic potential of the neuronal stem precursor cells found in the subventricular zone of the neonatal or infant brain,” says Nobuyuki Ishibashi. M.D., Foglia-Hills Professor of Pediatric Cardiac Research, director of the Cardiac Surgery Research Laboratory at Children’s National and senior author on the study. “In particular, previous studies in our laboratory have shown improvement in the neurogenic activities of these precursor cells when they are treated with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs).”

The findings from this study further support the work already underway in the NIH-funded MeDCaP clinical trial for neonates and infants undergoing cardiac surgery using the cardiopulmonary bypass machine. That trial uses the heart and lung machine itself to deliver MSCs directly into the main arteries that carry blood to the brain.

Drs. Wernovsky and Martin

Cardiac care leaders recognized for mentorship and innovation at AAP

Two Children’s National Hospital cardiac care leaders received prestigious recognition awards from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) during that organization’s virtual National Conference and Exhibition in October 2021.

  • Gil Wernovsky, M.D., cardiac critical care specialist at Children’s National Hospital, received the 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award from AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, celebrating his 30-plus-years as a clinician, educator, mentor and leader in the field.
  • Gerard Martin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology, Children’s National Hospital, received the AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award, in recognition of his work to establish the use of pulse oximetry to screen newborn infants for critical congenital heart disease in the first 24 hours of life.

Dr. Wernovsky: 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award, AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery

Gil Wernovsky

Gil Wernovsky, M.D., received the 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award from AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

The Master Educator Award is presented each year to a pediatric cardiologist or cardiothoracic surgeon who exemplifies excellence as an educator, mentor and/or leader in the field.

A practicing cardiac critical care specialist with more than 30 years’ experience in pediatric cardiology, Dr. Wernovsky trained and mentored more than 300 fellows in pediatric cardiology, cardiac surgery, neonatology, critical care medicine and cardiac anesthesia, in addition to countless residents and fellows. He also organizes national and international symposia to share expertise around the world. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, for example, he co-founded the Congenital Heart Academy (CHA). The CHA provides content from an international faculty of cardiac care to more than 26,000 practitioners in 112 countries and includes a thriving YouTube channel.

Dr. Wernovsky is also a founding member of several international societies focused on bringing together clinicians, researchers and students across sub-specialties of pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery for knowledge exchange and best practice sharing. These include: the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society, World Society for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery, the International Society of Pediatric Mechanical Circulatory Support and the Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcome Collaborative.

Dr. Wernovsky received the award on October 10 at the virtual Scientific Sessions of the 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.

Dr. Martin: AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award

Gerard Martin

Gerard Martin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology, Children’s National Hospital, received the AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award.

The Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) educates physicians, stimulates research and development and consults on therapeutics and technology-related matters for the AAP. The Achievement Award recognizes someone who has shown leadership in applying innovative approaches to solve pressing problems.

Dr. Martin is the C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology and has cared for children at Children’s National for more than 30 years. As an advocate for congenital heart disease efforts nationally and internationally, he played an integral role in the development of an innovative use of existing hospital technology—the pulse oximeter—to detect critical congenital heart disease in newborn babies.

Today, Dr. Martin and colleagues across the United States and around the world have worked to make this screening method a standard of care for newborns everywhere. It is a part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Recommended Uniform Screening Panel and has become law in every state. They continue to conduct research to refine the recommendations and hone-in on the most effective ways to harness these tools.

Dr. Martin was selected for this award in 2020. He accepted it and offered remarks during the 2021 virtual AAP National Conference and Exhibition on Monday, October 11, 2021.

cardiology timeline

History of cardiac care for children in Washington, D.C.

An article published in the journal Cardiology in the Young provides a comprehensive timeline mapping the growth trajectory of cardiology and cardiac surgery at one of the nation’s oldest children’s hospitals — Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Cardiology and cardiac surgery at Children’s National have grown exponentially in the nearly 80 years since the first heart-related surgery was recorded in 1942. Today, aligned with the growth trajectory of the hospital as it has evolved to become one of the top-ranked pediatric institutions in the country, the Children’s National Heart Institute has also evolved. In the last year, this included welcoming new Cardiac Surgery Chief, Yves d’Udekem, M.D., Ph.D.

The authors, Gerard Martin, M.D., M.A.C.C., C.R. Beyda Professor of Cardiology, and Richard Jonas, M.D., emeritus chief of Cardiac Surgery, both from Children’s National Hospital, note that this history of care has laid the groundwork for the Heart Institute to continue growing and caring for more neonates, infants, children and adults with congenital heart disease in the entire mid-Atlantic region and around the world.

cara timeline mapping the growth of cardiac care for neonates, children and adults at Children’s National Hospital

The article features a timeline mapping the growth of cardiac care for neonates, children and adults at Children’s National Hospital.

flow chart of pulse ox study

Newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease serves as vital safety net

One of the nation’s longest-running newborn screening programs for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) finds that screening continues to serve as a necessary tool to help identify every child with CCHD — even in states where the majority of babies are diagnosed before birth.

The screening program study findings were published in Pediatrics. The data is some of the first to provide long-term evidence for using pulse oximetry to screen newborns for critical congenital heart disease 24 hours after birth. This screening test was added to the Department of Health and Human Services Recommended Uniform Screening Panel in 2011 and is now required in all 50 states.

“This study reinforces why pulse oximetry screening for CCHD is an important tool in our arsenal to identify and treat critical congenital heart disease, and other conditions that affect the flow of oxygen throughout the body, as soon as possible,” says Bryanna Schwarz, M.D., a cardiology fellow at Children’s National Hospital and lead author. “We know that prompt, early detection and swift intervention is crucial to positive long-term outcomes for these kids.”

The team looked at the data and outcomes for all babies born throughout eight years at Holy Cross Hospital in suburban Maryland, one of the first community birthing hospitals in the country to routinely perform the screening. Over the eight-year period, 64,780 newborns were screened at the site. Of those:

  • Thirty-one failed the screening, and every baby who failed was found to have congenital heart disease or another important medical condition.
  • Twelve of the failures (38.7%) were babies with critical congenital heart disease who were not previously identified by prenatal detection.
  • Nine others (29%) had a non-critical congenital heart condition.
  • Ten additional babies (32%) had a non-cardiac condition.

The authors note that the 12 newborns with CCHD identified through pulse oximetry screening are noteworthy because they represent critical congenital heart disease cases that are not found before birth in the state of Maryland, where rates of prenatal diagnosis are relatively high. The finding indicates that screening after birth continues to play a critical role in ensuring every baby with critical congenital heart disease is identified and treated as quickly as possible.

“Holy Cross Health and Children’s National have had a decades-long relationship, as we mutually care for women and infants throughout the region. With Children’s National having the U.S. News & World Report #1 ranking Neonatology service in the nation and Holy Cross Hospital being among the top 10 hospitals for the number of babies delivered each year, we are honored to be leading together the great work that is being done to serve our health care community,” says Ann Burke, M.D., vice president of Medical Affairs at Holy Cross Hospital. “We are committed to continuing to do our part to care for women and infants, as well as contribute to the national landscape for neonatal care. We are delighted in the outcomes we have seen and look forward to continued advancement.”

In this study, infants who did not have critical congenital heart disease were considered “false positives” for CCHD. Still, every one of them was found to have another underlying condition, including non-critical congenital heart disease or non-cardiac conditions (such as sepsis and pneumonia) that would also require monitoring and treatment.

The researchers also ran a projection of recently recommended updates to the screening protocol, which include removing a second re-screen after a newborn fails the initial test, to look at whether removing the second rescreen to verify results would decrease accuracy. While the false positive rate did increase slightly from .03% to .04%, eliminating a second re-screen allowed the newborns who were identified to receive crucial care sooner without having to wait an additional hour for one more test to verify their condition.

“It’s time to stop asking if pulse oximetry is a necessary tool to detect critical heart disease in babies,” says Gerard Martin, M.D., M.A.C.C., senior author of the study and C.R. Beyda Professor of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital. “Our focus now should be on making evidence-based refinements to the screening protocol based on collected data to ensure the process is simple, can be performed consistently and provides as accurate results as possible.”

Crowded makeshift buildings of a shantytown

Calling greater attention to sub-Saharan Africa’s pressing challenges in pediatric cardiac care

Crowded makeshift buildings of a shantytown

Sub-Saharan Africa has only 0.19 pediatric cardiac surgeons per million children — nowhere near enough surgeons to care for all the pediatric congenital heart disease and acquired heart disease present in the people who live there.

A literature review in the journal Current Opinion in Cardiology draws further attention to the pressing needs for better pediatric cardiac care in regions of the world where the population continues to grow, but the development of specialty care for children continues to lag. The article focuses specifically on sub-Saharan Africa.

“If 40% of live births occur in Africa by 2050 as the projections suggest, congenital heart disease may well become the most important contributor to infant mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa in the next three decades,” stated the authors, including Annette Ansong, M.D., who recently joined Children’s National Hospital as medical director of outpatient cardiology.

As highlighted previously by other authors within the Global Health Initiative at Children’s National and through the work of the American Heart Association, the region’s needs are already significant in  tackling the impacts of existing congenital heart disease and rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic heart disease is a devastating long-term outcome of rheumatic fever caused by untreated streptococcus infections.

Annette Ansong

“If 40% of live births occur in Africa by 2050 as the projections suggest, congenital heart disease may well become the most important contributor to infant mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa in the next three decades,” stated the authors, including Annette Ansong, M.D., who recently joined Children’s National Hospital as medical director of outpatient cardiology.

Dr. Ansong and colleagues reiterate the point that today, “whereas one cardiac center caters to approximately 120,000 people in North America, 33 million people in sub-Saharan Africa must depend on one center for care.” They also note that this region of Africa has only 0.19 pediatric cardiac surgeons per million children compared with more than 58 times as many in North America.

Changing the trajectory of pediatric cardiac care in sub-Saharan Africa will take motivation on several fronts, the authors write. Dedication to early detection and intervention (medical or surgical), an emphasis on building an in-country pipeline of human resources and skills’ sets are needed to tackle the increasing numbers of children requiring this specialty care. Political will and better financial resources can also support the training and development of centers that specialize in these capabilities.

pregnant hispanic woman

Significant health disparities in detection of critical congenital heart disease

pregnant hispanic woman

Mothers who are Hispanic or who come from rural or low socioeconomic status neighborhoods are less likely to have their child’s critical heart condition diagnosed before birth, according to a new study in the journal Circulation.

Mothers who are Hispanic or who come from rural or low socioeconomic status neighborhoods are less likely to have their child’s critical heart condition diagnosed before birth, according to a new study in the journal Circulation.

This is the largest and most geographically diverse study of these challenges to date. The study compared patient data of more than 1,800 children from the United State and Canada diagnosed with two of the most common, and the most serious, critical congenital heart defects: hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), when the left side of the heart is not developed completely, and transposition of the great arteries (TGA), when the two main arteries that carry blood away from the heart are reversed.

“The earlier we diagnose a heart defect, especially a serious one such as HLHS or TGA, the sooner we can make a plan for how to safely deliver the infant and reduce the impacts of that heart defect on the rest of the body,” says Anita Krishnan, M.D., first author and cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital. “Early detection and diagnosis of these conditions is crucial to ensuring the best possible outcome for the child, especially in protecting the brain.”

Even when infants’ heart defects were detected before birth, babies from neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic status were detected later in gestation than others.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the idea of significant disparities in health care to the forefront of our national attention,” says Dr. Krishnan. “Even though many health care providers have seen these inequities firsthand in their own clinical experience, it was still surprising to see the strength of the association between socioeconomic position and the care available to mothers.”

In both the United States and Canada, expectant mothers are first screened as part of routine prenatal care in the first trimester for early signs of congenital heart defects and other genetic disorders via blood screen and ultrasound. In the second trimester, a comprehensive ultrasound evaluation for structural anomalies is routine. If any issues are detected, the mother is referred for a fetal echocardiogram and counseling.

The authors suggest that decreased linkages between neighborhoods and people identified in the study and subspecialists could contribute to the disparities found in the study.

“Prenatal detection rates may improve if we are able to leverage outreach and telehealth to strengthen the relationships between these specialties and the groups we identified in the study,” Dr. Krishnan says.

The study included a total of 1,862 patients, including 1,171 patients with HLHS (91.8% prenatally diagnosed) and 691 with TGA (58% prenatally diagnosed). The study group included prenatally diagnosed fetuses with HLHS or TGA and postnatally diagnosed infants less than two months old with HLHS or TGA. Data was collected from institutions participating in the Fetal Heart Society, a non-profit 501(c) multicenter research collaborative with a mission to advance the field of fetal cardiovascular care and science. Mary Donofrio, M.D., director of Prenatal Cardiology at Children’s National, is society president and served as a senior author on this study.

Read the AHA’s press release: Prenatal detection of heart defects lower in rural, poor areas and among Hispanic women.

little girl at the dentist

Limit antibiotic use before dental procedures to high-risk heart patients, says AHA

little girl at the dentist

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) says that good oral hygiene and regular dental care are the most important ways to reduce the risk of a heart infection called infective endocarditis (IE) caused by bacteria in the mouth.

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) says that good oral hygiene and regular dental care are the most important ways to reduce the risk of a heart infection called infective endocarditis (IE) caused by bacteria in the mouth. The statement was published in Circulation, the AHA’s flagship journal.

This statement addresses the impact of the major changes made in the 2007 AHA infective endocarditis (IE) guidelines that limited antibiotic prophylaxis (AP) prior to dental procedures to cardiac conditions at highest risk of complications from endocarditis by focusing on the following:

  • What was the acceptance of and compliance with the 2007 recommendations?
  • Was there an increased incidence of viridians group streptococci (VGS) infective endocarditis (IE)?
  • Were the recommendations from the guideline valid and should they be revised?

While the statement speaks to all types of heart disease, one area of particular interest in congenital heart disease was highlighted by statement co-author Craig Sable, M.D., F.A.H.A., associate division chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital.

He noted that the statement specifies that children and adult congenital heart patients undergoing pulmonary valve replacement can be at higher risk for IE. The most significant risk factor for IE is the material the valve is made from, regardless of whether it is placed by surgery or catheterization.

Read more about this statement from the AHA

Watch AHA’s video explaining the statement, which features Dr. Sable.

chest x-ray showing pacemaker

Medical device pitch competition focuses on pediatric electrophysiology devices for CHD

chest x-ray showing pacemaker

While the last decade brought great advances in technologies that improve the care of adult arrhythmias, pediatric patients have been left behind, with only five devices approved for use in children in the same period.

Congenital heart disease (CHD) affects six out of 1,000 babies born in the U.S. each year and is often complicated by arrhythmias, a condition where the heart beats too rapidly, too slowly or irregularly due to a misfiring of the body’s electrical impulses. While the last decade brought great advances in technologies that improve the care of adult arrhythmias, pediatric patients have been left behind, with only five devices approved for use in children in the same period. As a result, pediatric specialists are often using off-label or improvised devices to treat pediatric arrhythmias, including the smallest newborns.

Recognizing this unmet need, the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI), in collaboration with MedTech Innovator, is accepting applications through April 12, 2021, for its annual “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” competition. This year’s competition focuses on innovations in pediatric devices that treat CHD, with an emphasis on electrophysiology devices such as pacemaker systems, ablation catheters, wearable monitoring devices and related technologies that address arrhythmias in children.

“NCC-PDI was created, with the support of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to seek out and address significant unmet needs in pediatric medical devices,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI. “We have learned from the experts that pediatric-specific technologies for treating arrhythmias would be a game changer in the care of their patients, so we are focusing our competition and grant awards on this opportunity.”

Kolaleh-Eskandanian

“We have learned from the experts that pediatric-specific technologies for treating arrhythmias would be a game changer in the care of their patients, so we are focusing our competition and grant awards on this opportunity,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI.

Using a virtual format, semi-finalists chosen from all submissions will make their first pitch on May 12, 2021. Up to 10 finalists selected from this event earn participation in a special pediatric-focused track of the MedTech Innovator accelerator program, the largest medtech accelerator in the world, beginning in June 2021. These innovators then participate in the pediatric competition finals in September 2021 where judges will award up to $150,000 in FDA-sponsored grants to the devices selected as most impactful and commercially viable.

How significant is the need for pediatric devices to address arrhythmias? In a recent survey of members conducted by the Pediatric and Congenital Electrophysiology Society (PACES), the vast majority (96%) said they believe there is a deficiency in devices available to serve the needs of pediatric patients. Conducted with the U.S.FDA, the survey also asked respondents to identify the biggest unmet need, which physicians identified as cardiovascular implantable electronic devices that are smaller, have better battery life and have pediatric-specific algorithms. Specifically, a leadless pacemaker designed for pediatric care was consistently on the most-wanted list.

NCC-PDI is one of five members in the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grant Program created to support the development and commercialization of medical devices for children, which lags significantly behind the advancement of adult medical devices. NCC-PDI is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland with support from partners MedTech Innovator, BioHealth Innovation and design firm Archimedic.

Eskandanian says that enhancing access to resources for pediatric innovators is also one of the aims of the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, a first-of-its-kind focused on pediatric health care innovation, with the first phase currently open on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus in Washington, D.C. With its proximity to federal research institutions and agencies, universities, academic research centers, as well as on-site incubator Johnson and Johnson Innovation – JLABS, the campus provides a rich ecosystem of public and private partners which, like the NCC-PDI network, will help bolster pediatric innovation and commercialization.

 

Dr. Martin interacts with a patient

Gerard Martin, M.D., F.A.C.C, recognized with American College of Cardiology top honor

Dr. Martin interacts with a patient

Gerard Martin, M.D., F.A.C.C., has been awarded the 2021 Master of the ACC Award by the American College of Cardiology in honor of contributions to the cardiovascular profession.

Gerard Martin, M.D., F.A.C.C., has been awarded the 2021 Master of the ACC Award by the American College of Cardiology in honor of contributions to the cardiovascular profession. Dr. Martin will be recognized for these achievements along with all 2021 Distinguished Award winners during Convocation at the hybrid 70th Annual Scientific Session & Expo taking place May 15-17, 2021 in Atlanta and virtually.

“Dr. Martin has made lasting contributions to the field of cardiovascular medicine through his dedication to improving cardiovascular health and enhancing patient care,” said ACC President Athena Poppas, MD, F.A.C.C. “It is an honor to be able to recognize Dr. Martin with the Master of the ACC Award and celebrate his tremendous achievements in the cardiovascular field.”

The Master of the ACC (MACC) Award recognizes and honors fellows of the American College of Cardiology who have consistently contributed to the goals and programs of the college and who have provided leadership in important college activities. MACC designees have been members of the college for at least 15 years and have served with distinction and provided leadership on various college programs and committees. Only four distinguished members of the American College of Cardiology are selected for this honor each year.

Dr. Martin is a cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital, where he has been in practice since 1986. He founded the Children’s National Heart Institute in 2004 and was named the C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology in 2007. He has published over 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters and invited publications and has presented abstracts at over 125 meetings. Dr. Martin is an invited lecturer who has traveled to over 200 meetings, hospitals and universities within the U.S. and around the world.

Dr. Martin is an advocate for congenital heart disease (CHD) efforts nationally and internationally. He played integral roles in the development and dissemination of critical congenital heart disease screening in using pulse oximetry — a practice that is now standard for all newborns across the United States. He also has volunteered on countless medical missions to developing countries.

Dr. Martin is board-certified in pediatric cardiology, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Cardiology and is also a member of the Society for Pediatric Research and the American Board of Pediatrics.

Nineteen Distinguished Awards will be presented at ACC.21 this year, each recognizing an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the field of cardiovascular medicine. Recipients are nominated by their peers and then selected by the American College of Cardiology Awards Committee.

The American College of Cardiology envisions a world where innovation and knowledge optimize cardiovascular care and outcomes. As the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team, the mission of the College and its 54,000 members is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC bestows credentials upon cardiovascular professionals who meet stringent qualifications and leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College also provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research through its world-renowned JACC Journals, operates national registries to measure and improve care, and offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions. For more, visit acc.org.

illustration of brain with stem cells

Innovative phase 1 trial to protect brains of infants with CHD during and after surgery

A novel phase 1 trial looking at how best to optimize brain development of babies with congenital heart disease (CHD) is currently underway at Children’s National Hospital.

Children with CHD sometimes demonstrate delay in the development of cognitive and motor skills. This can be a result of multiple factors including altered prenatal oxygen delivery, brain blood flow and genetic factors associated with surgery including exposure to cardiopulmonary bypass, also known as the heart lung machine.

This phase 1 trial is the first to deliver mesenchymal stromal cells from bone marrow manufactured in a lab (BM-MSC) into infants already undergoing cardiac surgery via cardiopulmonary bypass. The hypothesis is that by directly infusing the MSCs into the blood flow to the brain, more MSCs quickly and efficiently reach the subventricular zone and other areas of the brain that are prone to inflammation. The trial is open to eligible patients ages newborn to six months of age.


Learn more in this overview video.

The trial is part of a $2.5 million, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led by Richard Jonas, M.D.Catherine Bollard, M.B.Ch.B., M.D., and Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D.. The project involves collaboration between the Prenatal Cardiology program of Children’s National Heart Institute, the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, the Center for Neuroscience Research and the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation.

“NIH supported studies in our laboratory have shown that MSC therapy may be extremely helpful in improving brain development in animal models after cardiac surgery,” says Dr. Ishibashi. “MSC infusion can help reduce inflammation including prolonged microglia activation that can occur during surgery that involves the heart lung machine.”

Staff from the Cellular Therapy Laboratory, led by director Patrick Hanley, Ph.D., manufactured the BM-MSC at the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, led by Dr. Bollard.

The phase 1 safety study will set the stage for a phase 2 effectiveness trial of this highly innovative MSC treatment aimed at reducing brain damage, minimizing neurodevelopmental disabilities and improving the postoperative course in children with CHD. The resulting improvement in developmental outcome and lessened behavioral impairment will be of enormous benefit to individuals with CHD.

For more information about this new treatment, contact the clinical research team: Gil Wernovsky, M.D., Shriprasad Deshpande, M.D., Maria Fortiz.

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Mended Little Hearts names Children’s National Hospital as ‘Hospital of the Year’

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Children’s National Hospital was named Hospital of the Year by Mended Little Hearts, one of the top organizations in the U.S. for patients with congenital heart disease and their families. Children’s National was selected as the Hospital of the Year across all divisions of the Mended Little Hearts national network and the Washington, D.C. region. The hospital is recognized with the award for its efforts to empower Mended Little Hearts volunteers and make it possible for the group to provide peer support and education to children and adults with congenital heart disease, their families and the surrounding communities.

“It’s an honor to be recognized as a champion by a group like Mended Little Hearts that truly represents the voices and needs of patients and their families. We embrace and encourage their work because we know that providing the best care for children and their families goes beyond simply outstanding clinical service,” says Charles Berul, M.D., chief of Cardiology and co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute. “We are privileged to have a group of dedicated volunteers from Mended Little Hearts who are willing to work side-by-side with our team to share peer support, education and guidance for our families at Children’s National.”

Though many in-person activities are currently on hold or held virtually for the health and safety of everyone during the COVID-19 public health emergency, Children’s National and Mended Little Hearts continue to coordinate closely together to support families as much as possible by making virtual connections and via the Mended Little Hearts “Bravery Bags,” which are given to every family and include personal essentials for a hospital stay as well as important guidance such as questions to ask care providers and how to seek more information about the care plan.

For the last few years, the hospital has also provided space within the hospital for the group to host family breakfasts and other events, making sure families have access to the information and support items they need during a hospital stay. They are also welcomed to many of the hospital’s annual events for adults and children with congenital heart disease and their families, to connect and share experiences.

“We are honored to recognize Children’s National Hospital for the outstanding work they have done to support heart patients and their families,” said Mended Hearts Inc. President Ron Manriquez. “That they have won this award is proof of the deep commitment they have to their members, families and the community at large. We are grateful for the work they do to support the Mended Little Hearts mission.”

Mended Little Hearts and its parent group, Mended Hearts, are organizations that inspire hope and seek to improve the quality of life for heart patients and their families through ongoing peer-to-peer support.

a telehealth video visit with a patient family

Steady rates of patient satisfaction, reimbursement for cardiac telehealth during COVID-19

a telehealth video visit with a patient family

In the first two weeks of COVID-19’s major impact on the U.S., Children’s National Hospital moved most of its subspecialty in-person day-to-day clinics to virtual care. Children’s National Heart Institute was one of the first divisions to offer telehealth visits — in part because the team was an early adopter of telehealth in cardiology for both physician-to-physician consultations and direct-to-patient care, and stood poised to widely implement it.

A poster presentation at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020 quantified how the rapid transition to direct-to-consumer telehealth services impacted families with children who have congenital heart disease. The findings were presented by first author Kristine Mehrtens, M.S., B.S.N., R.N., C.P.N., clinical manager for the Heart Institute’s Ambulatory Services.

The team found that though in-person cardiology visits decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, direct-to-patient telehealth visits were able to partially compensate for the sudden drop.

Additionally, payer reimbursement rates for these direct-to-consumer telehealth visits were similar to in-person clinic visits.

”This is exciting as prior to COVID-19  we have seen a lower reimbursement rates for these cardiology direct-to-consumer telehealth visits compared to in-person cardiology clinic visits,” said Ashraf S. Harahsheh, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital who has utilized direct-to-consumer telehealth visits since 2016 and is a senior author on the new study.

Patient satisfaction scores for care providers, including the likelihood of recommending a care provider from Children’s National Hospital, was the same for telehealth follow-up visits as it was for in-person clinic visits before the pandemic.

“As a multidisciplinary team, we agreed that diagnostic studies such as echocardiograms were important to include with follow-up visits,” says Mehrtens. “Together we developed a strategy to ensure we could meet the needs of the patients and also safely conduct in-person visits when necessary.”

Why is this important?

The pandemic and the resulting temporary halt to in-person, non-urgent/emergent visits earlier this year put the most vulnerable people with congenital heart disease at high risk for complications or worsening of their existing heart disease because they are unable to follow the recommended schedule for follow-ups.

The readiness of the Children’s Heart Institute team to quickly move to a telehealth platform successfully bridged the gap between in-person visits for some patients, allowing cardiology surveillance to continue safely.

“I am proud of our team of physicians and advanced care providers,” Harahsheh concludes. “We went from three providers (8%) pre-COVID 19 to 31 (79%) providers offering direct-to-consumer telehealth visits during the pandemic.”

What’s next?

Building on previous, smaller studies of telehealth before the pandemic began, the team will continue to conduct research to assess the safety and efficacy of these telehealth visits over time. The increase in patients who are continuing to see their providers for routine follow-ups via telehealth will allow a larger sample for effective study of this care model.

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020
Impact of Telemedicine on Pediatric Cardiac Center’s Ambulatory Response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (covid-19) Pandemic
P1692
9:00am – 10:00am
Fri, Nov 13  (CST)

Read additional news stories about cardiology telehealth:

newborn in ICU

Cardiac technology advances show promise for kids but only if right-sized

newborn in ICU

“Smaller patients, and those with congenital heart disease, can benefit from minimally-invasive methods of delivering pacemakers and defibrillators without the need for open-chest surgery,” says Charles Berul, M.D.

How to address the growing need for child-sized pacemakers and defibrillators, and finding better surgical techniques to place them, is the topic of an invited session called The Future is Now (or Coming Soon): Updates on New Technologies in Congenital Heart Care at the 2020 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

“Smaller patients, and those with congenital heart disease, can benefit from minimally-invasive methods of delivering pacemakers and defibrillators without the need for open-chest surgery,” says Charles Berul, M.D., co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute and chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital, who presented at the session.

“This unmet need can only be met by innovative pediatric research, geared towards miniaturization technologies for use in the smallest of children,” he says.

His presentation focused on the devices and approaches that have caught the attention of pediatric cardiology, such as pacemakers and subcutaneous defibrillators designed without lead wires, as well as less-invasive surgical approaches that may reduce recovery time for children with congenital heart disease who require these assist devices.

Using them in kids comes with added challenges, however. Often pediatric cardiologists have to be creative in how to make them work for smaller patients, Dr. Berul notes. This reiterates the important point that simply applying an adult technology to a child isn’t the right approach. The subcutaneous defibrillator, for example, is still pretty large for a child’s body. Some studies also show these devices may not be as accurate in children as in adults.

Investigators in the Sheikh Zayed Institute working together with the cardiologists at Children’s National Hospital are focused on product development and commercialization of tools and techniques to allow percutaneous minimally-invasive placement of devices, taking advantage of the newest devices and surgical techniques as they develop.

In his presentation, Dr. Berul stressed that as the technology for adults advances, it creates an opportunity for pediatric cardiology, but only if the devices, and the techniques to place them, are specifically redesigned for pediatric application.

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020
The Future is Now (or Coming Soon): Updates on New Technologies in Congenital Heart Care – On Demand Session
CH.CVS.715
9:00am – 10:00am
Fri, Nov 13  (CST)

Yves d'Udekem

Yves d’Udekem, M.D., Ph.D., joins Children’s National as Cardiac Surgery Chief

Yves d’Udekem, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric cardiac surgeon recognized for expertise in the most challenging procedures for newborns and children with complex congenital heart disease, has joined Children’s National Hospital as chief of Cardiac Surgery and co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute.

“Children’s National has the cases and expertise I was looking for,” he says. “Even better, when you visit it’s clear that the entire Heart Institute team is energetic about working together. They’re constantly seeking better ways to do this work and improve how we care for children and their families.”

Dr. d’Udekem comes to Children’s National from The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, an institution that has led the advancement of congenital heart disease care and research, performing more than 500 surgical procedures with cardiopulmonary bypass each year.

He has a broad spectrum of pediatric cardiac surgery expertise, with special emphasis in single ventricle congenital heart defects, when one lower chamber of the heart does not develop. One area of his research portfolio includes clinical research into long-term quality of life for people who had Fontan procedures — a critical surgical approach to adapt blood flow for people born with single ventricle heart disease. He has additional expertise in valve repair, artificial hearts and other cardiac assist devices.

“Sometimes it seems like I’ve been born and put on this earth for that single purpose — I have to bring life to patients with single ventricle hearts or assist devices,” he says. He describes his path to pediatric cardiac surgery as serendipity, “It’s more like pediatric cardiac surgery chose me.”

“It is an honor to welcome Yves d’Udekem to the Children’s National Heart Institute,” says David Wessel, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer of Hospital and Specialty Services at Children’s National. “He is a surgeon, physician and leader of the highest caliber. I can say without hesitation that Yves’ leadership of our cardiac surgery team will change the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of children and adults with congenital heart disease.”

In preparation for Dr. d’Udekem’s arrival, the Children’s National Heart Institute and hospital leadership created a framework plan for success that will build on the legacy of excellence established by Richard Jonas, M.D. Dr. Jonas, a world leader in congenital heart surgery who has made significant clinical and academic advances in the field, will continue his award-winning laboratory-based research at Children’s National on neurodevelopmental outcomes for children with congenital heart disease.

Dr. d’Udekem is Belgian-born with Canadian and Australian citizenship. He received his early training in Belgium and Toronto. As an attending cardiac surgeon in Belgium, he operated on both adults and children with congenital heart disease. Dr. d’Udekem then worked with internationally recognized heart surgeon Marc de Leval, M.D., FRCS, and others in London to train in congenital heart surgery at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. From there, he was recruited to The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, where he has been ever since.

Dr. d’Udekem has more than 350 research publications and has obtained more than $7 million in grant funding in the past five years for work to create the first research network of Australian children and adults who have undergone the Fontan procedure.

He started seeing patients at Children’s National in mid-September.

doctors operating

U.S. DoD awards $2M for study to protect neurological function after cardiac surgery

doctors operating

A collaboration between clinical and basic science researchers including Drs. Ishibashi, Hashimoto-Torii, Jonas, and Deutsch, seeks to to understand how caspase enzyme activation plays a role in the development of fine and gross motor skills in children who underwent cardiac surgery for CHD repair.

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded $2 million to Children’s National Hospital to study how a family of protease enzymes known as caspases may contribute to brain cell degeneration when activated by prolonged anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass during cardiac surgery for congenital heart disease.

This U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity Award, Anesthesia Neurotoxicity in Congenital Heart Disease, is led by principal investigator Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., with both clinical and basic science co-investigators including Kazue Hashimoto-Torii, Ph.D., (Neuroscience), Richard Jonas, M.D., (Cardiovascular Surgery) and Nina Deutsch, M.D., (Anesthesiology).

While the specific cellular and molecular mechanisms of how anesthesia and cardiac surgery impact cortical development are poorly understood, both seem to impact brain growth and development in young children. The most common neurologic deficit seen in children after CHD surgical repair is the impairment of fine and gross motor skills.

Both anesthetic agents and inflammation like that seen as a result of cardiopulmonary bypass have also been shown to contribute to the activation of a specific group of enzymes that play an essential role in the routine (programmed) death of cells: caspases. However, recent pre-clinical research shows that these enzymes may also contribute to other alterations to cells beyond cell death, including making changes to other cell structures. In pre-clinical models, these changes cause impairments to fine and gross motor skills – the same neurological deficits seen in children with CHD who have undergone procedures requiring prolonged anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass.

The research team hypothesizes that caspases are extensively activated as a result of cardiac surgery and while that activation is rarely causing reduced numbers of neurons, the changes that caspase enzymes trigger in neurons are contributing to neurological deficits seen in children with CHD after surgery.

While the study focuses specifically on the impacts of cardiac surgery for correction of a heart defect, the findings could have major implications for any pediatric surgical procedure requiring prolonged anesthesia and/or cardiopulmonary bypass.

Nobuyuki Ishibashi

R01 grant funds white matter protection study for congenital heart disease

Nobuyuki Ishibashi

Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., is the principal investigator on a $3.2 million NIH R01 to study white matter growth and repair in utero for fetal brains affected by congenital heart disease.

Many of the neurological deficits seen in children with congenital heart disease (CHD) are related to abnormal white matter development early in life caused by reduced oxygen supply to the brain while in utero. Children with immature white matter at birth also commonly sustain additional white matter injuries following cardiac surgery.

The NIH recently awarded a prestigious R01 grant totaling more than $3.2 million to a collaborative project led by the Center for Neuroscience Research, the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation and the Children’s National Heart Institute at Children’s National Hospital as well as MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The research, titled “White matter protection in the fetus with congenital heart disease,” looks specifically at whether providing a supplemental amount of the naturally occurring tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) for pregnant women could rescue white matter development of fetuses with congenital heart disease whose brains aren’t receiving enough oxygen – or suffering from hypoxic-ischemic events.

Previous preclinical studies have shown that this lack of oxygen depletes the brain’s natural BH4 level, and the researchers hypothesize that BH4 levels play a critical role in the growth and development of white matter in the fetal brain by triggering key cellular/molecular processes. Specifically, the study will focus on three aims:

  1. Establish in a preclinical model the optimal protective regiment for women pregnant with a fetus who has CHD to receive BH4.
  2. Determine the appropriate approach to deliver BH4 to this population
  3. Leverage genetic tools and biochemical techniques in the laboratory to better understand where and how BH4 levels play a role in the growth (or lack thereof) of oligodendrocytes—the primary cells of white matter.

This laboratory-based work is the first step to determining if the neurodevelopment of babies born with CHD can be preserved or recovered by addressing key brain development that occurs before the baby is even born. Findings related to congenital heart disease may also translate to other populations where white matter development is affected by hypoxia-ischemia, including premature infants.

The project is led by principal investigator Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., with co-investigators Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., Joseph Scafidi, D.O., and Mary Donofrio, M.D. as well as colleagues at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

telemedicine control room

Telehealth connects pediatric heart experts about critical COVID-19 details

telemedicine control room

Telehealth is more than a doctor-to-patient tool during COVID-19. Experts in congenital heart disease meet weekly to share details about how it affects their vulnerable patients.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has been crucial in allowing doctors to maintain safe contact with patients who require ongoing medical care without an office visit. Just as important is the role that telehealth is playing to connect care providers with each other to ensure that everyone around the world has the information they need to provide the best care possible for this swift-moving disease.

One good example of this specialist-to-specialist thought leadership connection is the ongoing weekly meeting hosted by the Children’s National Hospital cardiac critical care specialists. Since early in the spread of COVID-19, the Cardiac-ICU team, led by cardiovascular specialists including Ricardo Munoz, M.D., chief of cardiac critical care medicine and executive director of telehealth at Children’s National, have connected pediatric clinicians around the world to discuss how best to care for particularly vulnerable patients with pre-existing heart diseases, and to discuss breaking news in epidemiology of the disease and the effectiveness of various treatment approaches.

The video conference attracts hundreds of physicians and nurses who specialize in pediatric cardiac care from countries all over the world. In the last week of April, the meeting featured a late-breaking session to discuss new pediatric intensive care observations of inflammatory symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease, which were being detected in the United Kingdom, Paris and the United States. While more information is needed about this discovery, the ability of these experts to gather and compare disease phenotypes from country to country facilitates both the additional classification of pediatric-related symptoms and improves how all centers, no matter their location, can prepare to treat children who present locally with these symptoms.

In recent weeks, cardiac physicians and nurses from some of the world’s hardest hit regions, including Italy and Spain, have shared detailed information about their on-the-ground experiences to help colleagues in the U.S. and elsewhere better prepare for new developments.

“This new disease is a moving target, especially when it comes to understanding how it might impact children and adults with existing cardiac disease, particularly those with congenital heart disease,” says Dr. Munoz. “It is extremely important that we learn from each other, especially when we are able to connect with our colleagues in the epicenters of the most serious outbreaks of COVID-19. We are happy to host this important weekly meeting with the goal of helping every specialist keep as many patients with cardiac diseases as safe as possible throughout the global health emergency.”

If you would like to join these weekly telehealth meetings, please send your request to COVIDMultiCICUResponse@childrensnational.org.