Studying exercise capacity and cardiovascular function in children born with ‘half a heart’ (only one ventricle in the heart)
Trustees Discretionary Award – Mr David Barron, Birmingham Children’s Hospital and University of Birmingham
The normal heart has two pumping chambers – but in babies born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), the main pumping chamber of the heart does not develop. Without treatment, HLHS is lethal within days of birth and accounts for a quarter of all cardiac deaths in the first week of life. Life-saving heart surgery can be performed to create the ‘Fontan circulation’ using the single pumping chamber to pump blood to the body, so that these children can now survive into adulthood.
The way in which the Fontan circulation adapts to the demands of exercise is poorly understood, and it is not known whether training protocols and rehabilitation schemes can influence the performance of the Fontan circulation.
Using some of the latest non-invasive tests, the research team will measure performance and response to exercise in a much more detailed way than ever before.
The project will study how children aged 11 – 14 years with the Fontan circulation respond to exercise, and compare them with children of the same age with healthy hearts. This will build up a picture of the muscle mass, exercise ability and cardiovascular response to exercise in these two groups of children.
In the Fontan circulation, many of the normal systems that control cardiovascular function are very different and it will be important to define how the cardiovascular parameters in these children compare with what would be expected in healthy children.
The project will also look at the adrenaline and stress hormone levels in the body to see if these vary between HLHS and the healthy population, and also compare the children’s own assessment of their quality of life in relation to their actual exercise performance.
Once the baseline performance has been established, the researchers will then use this information to examine whether exercise training and rehabilitation schemes can bring benefits equivalent to those seen in the normal circulation during fitness training.
Motivating children to exercise is an important part of this research and the work may have a wide-reaching impact by demonstrating the potential benefits of exercise, particularly in children who have been labelled as having ‘heart disease’ but also in the wider population.