Overview

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The Heart Research and Outcomes Center (HeRO) seeks to reduce the morbidity of pediatric heart disease.  As our ability to detect and repair congenital heart defects has improved over the years, these patients now require long-term solutions to improve cardiac function.  Additionally, multiple surgeries on children also has neurological repercussions, and studies are needed for this as well. Our Center will lead the transformation of focused cardiac research in to innovative therapies for young patients.  We will accomplish this through leveraging of resources within Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Marcus Autism Center, and from within the Pediatric Heart Network.  Major areas of research include Regenerative and Nanomedicine Technologies, Cardiac Development, Cardiac Outcomes, Cardiac Devices, and Neurodevelopmental Studies. 

Center Director: Mike Davis, PhD

Research at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta:

Nearly 1 in every 120 children born has congenital heart disease (CHD). Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect and are the primary cause of death from birth defects during the first year of life. Improvements in pediatric cardiac surgery have resulted in a dramatic decrease in morbidity and mortality for these children. While surgical repair of some forms of CHD results in normal or near-normal physiology, there are many children who are left with suboptimal cardiac function. Due to both a lack of understanding of pediatric disease, and a lack of pediatric-specific treatments, many of these children will have a poor quality of life, or even worse require transplant.

At the Children’s Heart Research and Outcomes (HeRO) Center, we strive to create the next generation of pediatric-specific therapies.  We do this through cutting edge research using nanotechnology, stem cells, and better understanding of normal and abnormal cardiovascular development.  We also look at the whole picture: what will happen to these children as they age from a neurodevelopmental standpoint.  By researching both daily function and long-term outcomes, we hope to have a better understanding of how we can help these children regain normal function.  Our research blends fundamental basic science, with translational and clinical medicine to improve the quality of life of children with CHD.

Cardiovascular Engineering encompasses a wide range of biomedical and engineering projects targeted at understanding the mechanisms and treatments of cardiovascular health, disease, and regeneration. Engineering sciences of fluid dynamics and solid mechanics are integrated with biology and diseases of the heart, heart valves, vasculature, and lymphatics with a rapidly growing emphasis on pediatric cardiovascular diseases.  Biomedical engineers collaborate with practicing clinicians and clinical investigators, biomedical imaging scientists, and basic cardiovascular biologists using experimental and computational approaches asking questions spanning the genes and small molecules to cellular and organ levels that, in most cases are integrative and multi-scale.

Regenerative medicine is a branch of translational research in Tissue Engineering and Molecular Biology which deals with the process of replacing, engineering or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function. This field holds the promise of engineering damaged tissues and organs via stimulating the body's own repair mechanisms to functionally heal previously irreparable tissues or organs. Regenerative medicine also includes the possibility of growing tissues and organs in the laboratory and safely implant them when the body cannot heal itself. This can potentially solve the problem of the shortage of organs available for donation, and the problem of organ transplant rejection if the organ's cells are derived from the patient's own tissue or cells.

  • Better valves for children
  • Stem cell trials for children
  • Neuro injury and outcomes
  • Disease understanding in a dish
  • Genome editing
  • Pediatric nanoparticles

Developmental biology quantify the constituent building blocks and interactions that organize cellular function, understand the dynamic mechanisms through which cells communicate, differentiate, proliferate and die, and manipulate these fundamental principles to control cell fate for next-generation therapeutics.

Outcomes research involves using existing data to find ways to help children in the future. 

  • Improving the long-term outcomes for patients with congenital heart disease
  • Preventing later complications tied to cardiac conditions
  • Understanding the epidemiology of congenital heart disease (CHD) 
  • Collecting biopsies from children undergoing cardiac procedures to isolate progenitor cells and see if they can be used to treat cardiac dysfunction
  • Converting stem cells into pacemaker-type cardiac cells, isolating them and generating tissue-engineered constructs for regenerative medicine and drug testing.
  • Using advance brain imaging (functional MRI) to identify how adults survivors of congenital heart disease patients activate different parts of their brains in order to carry out critical tasks like planning the day's events.
  •  Investigating the role of cardiac stem cells in normal and abnormal cardiac development and the potential role of these stem cells in regenerating heart tissue.
  • Using non-invasive optical spectroscopies to investigate cerebral blood flow and oxygen metabolism and the relationship of these parameters to pre- and post-operative brain injury in neonatal congenital heart disease
  • Investigating transcriptional regulation of cardiovascular development and neovascularization 
  • Using induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) from patients with Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy, we examine the development of cardiac disease in children before it happens  
  • Investigations on ways in which the pathological hypertrophy, which occurs in many forms of congenital heart disease, leads to heart failure and how this heart failure can be prevented and treated.
  • Examining the role of TGF-ß polymorphisms on the development of renal dysfunction and hypertension in the pediatric transplant population.

Cardiovascular Imaging Core (CIRC) provides non-invasive cardiovascular imaging support for investigators involved in clinical research involving infants, children and adolescents. The CIRC has dedicated space, equipment and experienced staff to provide high quality cardiovascular imaging services as well as post-processing of previously acquired images using specialized software. These services include performance of a routine complete or limited congenital or non-congenital two-dimensional echocardiography, color and spectral Doppler imaging; advanced echocardiographic imaging including three-dimensional echocardiography, tissue Doppler imaging, strain and strain rate imaging; stress echocardiography and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging. CIRC has also launched a program for assessment of vascular health in pediatric patients that includes non-invasive assessment of endothelial function using brachial artery flow-mediated dilation, measurement of arterial stiffness using applanation tonometry and assessment of structural arterial changes using carotid imaging.

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The Animal Physiology Core provides pediatric researchers with services and equipment to develop and characterize animal models relevant to investigating pediatric diseases.

Animal Surgery

Acute and survival surgery for rats and mice, as well as USDA regulated animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and piglets. Options include providing the investigator with the surgical equipment for their own use or our trained surgical staff can perform the surgical procedures.

Ultrasound

High resolution small animal ultrasound examinations towards characterizing cardiac function and liver and kidney blood flow. Studies using the new Visualsonics Vevo 2100 High Frequency Ultrasound system (see equipment page for full list of features) can either be conducted for you by our trained staff or investigators can reserve the equipment and utilize their own laboratory personnel. Core Staff are currently trained to do ultrasound examinations for cardiac function, liver and kidney blood flow. We will work with investigators to optimize their experiments.

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