Our research will improve our understanding of why brain development is abnormal in CHD and provide the imaging tools to assess the efficacy of interventional trials of neuroprotectants. Going forwards, the results of this programme have the potential to improve brain health in individuals with CHD.Professor Serena Counsell
07 October 2020
Professor Serena Counsell awarded £3.3 million MRC grant to investigate placental function and brain development in CHD
The research will improve our understanding of why brain development is abnormal in CHD and provide the imaging tools to assess the efficacy of interventional trials of neuroprotectants
Perinatal Imaging & Health Professor Serena Counsell in the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences has been awarded a Medical Research Council (MRC) grant of £3.3 million for a five-year study to investigate the relationship between the placenta and brain development in congenital heart disease (CHD), following current evidence that placental function may be abnormal in CHD.
Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), the study will investigate placental function in congenital heart disease, a birth defect that affects around one percent of all births in the UK. The researchers aim to identify the mechanisms underlying abnormal brain development, by performing fetal and neonatal brain MRI scans and assessing the relationship between placental function and brain development.
Using the brain MRI findings in the fetuses and neonates, the researchers also want to identify how altered brain development is associated with impaired cognitive and behavioural outcome in children with congenital heart disease.
“We aim to assess whether placental function is related to fetal and neonatal brain development, and then to later outcome at two years of age,” Professor Counsell said.
The researchers will also perform detailed neurocognitive and behavioral testing, and fMRI at seven years in another group of children with CHD who had brain imaging at the School’s Department of Perinatal Imaging and Health when they were babies. This will allow them to see whether performance at seven years relates to early brain development.
Clinical collaborator Professor John Simpson, consultant pediatric and fetal cardiologist at Evelina London Children's Hospital said: “When it comes to care, there is now more of a focus on quality of life, including physical capabilities and neurodevelopment, which have emerged as continuing concerns for patients. Understanding brain development in fetuses, infants and children with congenital heart disease is absolutely vital if we are to improve the quality of life of those living with CHD.”
The successful MRC grant application led by Professor Serena Counsell provides an unrivalled opportunity to study fetuses, infants and children with congenital heart disease to improve our understanding of brain development and potentially intervene to maximise the life chances of those affected.Professor John Simpson
The project is set to commence in early 2021.