Research indicates that a large percentage of children with congenital heart disease face academic challenges, including problems with attention, planning and executing important daily tasks (executive function). There is also emerging evidence that these children may have problems with peer interaction, which could have significant implications for adolescence and young adulthood. By evaluating children at one year and again at two years of age, we are focused on understanding the causes of these problems, as well as potential therapies to improve outcomes.
To analyze infant brain injury and better understand causes of the inflammatory process, we use both sophisticated tools of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as well as the latest translational tools. Preliminarily, we have found that more than 50% of newborns who require open heart surgery acquire injury to the white matter portion of their brain. We are exploring how signals within the body, called cytokines, may contribute to this process. More information is needed to understand the factors contributing to early brain injury, but this research could help us to more effectively prevent it.
Working with our colleagues in Neuropsychology, we are also investigating how school-based problems impact quality of life in older children. By incorporating functional MRI (fMRI) into the evaluation process, we can determine which portions of the brain respond to various tasks. The pattern of brain activation seen on fMRI helps provide insight into how the brain may be adapting inappropriately to common tasks among the school age child or teenager.
The results of this research will help us to better devise therapies ranging from medication, to traditional behavioral psychological impact interventions, to at-home strategies to help families. This research leverages strengths of the other Atlanta institutions such as Georgia State University and Georgia Institute of Technology.