Improving assessment of single ventricle heart function after surgery in children

University of Birmingham - School of Mechanical Engineering

The University of Birmingham and the University of Melbourne are offering this joint PhD co-funded by both institutions providing the opportunity to study alongside world-leading academics in Birmingham and Melbourne.

Each year, it is estimated that 13,500 children around the World are born with a form of congenital heart disease that means only one out of the two heart pumps (ventricles) is functionally viable. Currently, the best chance of survival comes with a series of three complex operations that result in a Fontan circulation, where a single ventricle pumps blood to the body and the major veins are connected directly to the pulmonary arteries to supply lung blood flow. Although medium-term survival is improving, these patients have reduced exercise capacity and a significant risk of heart failure.

In collaboration with clinical researchers at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI), and biomechanics and multi-scale computational modelling experts at the University of Birmingham and University of Melbourne, this project will investigate the efficacy of Fontan circulation procedures in providing viable long term heart function to children affected by this congenital disease. Students working on this project will:

  • work closely with clinicians at the MCRI to collect magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data of heart structure and function of children with a Fontan circulation. In particular, they will measure changes in cardiac output before and after exercise.
  • use the MRI data to create in-silico 3D computer models of the hearts to develop computer simulations of the heart beat that accurately represent the electrical and mechanical function measured in the experimental data;
  • perform ex-vivo measurements of cardiac tissue electrical and mechanical properties sourced from animal models that are commonly used as surrogates for children’s hearts.
  • use the experimental data and the structurally and functionally accurate models of the heart to examine the patterns of electrical activity, strain and stress that are introduced after a Fontan procedure.

The students will investigate whether increased demands during exercise trigger abnormal rhythmic and biomechanical patterns. The models will also enable in-silico hypothesis tests to determine key properties of the heart that must be monitored post-Fontan procedure to ensure that the heart functions reliably in the long term. A key aim will be to translate model-based findings into novel and clinically applicable methods of assessing heart function and identifying patients at risk of heart failure. This study will significantly advance our understanding of how the single ventricle functions and will contribute towards the ultimate goal of improving and extending the lives of children with a Fontan circulation.

Additional Funding Information
A fully-funded studentship, which includes tax-free Doctoral Stipend of £14,296* per annum, is available for Home/EU and Overseas students on this Joint PhD programme between the University of Birmingham and the University of Melbourne for October 2017 start. For engineering students who are to be hosted by the University of Melbourne, the scholarship rate will be $AUD26,388 p.a. and will include provision for a return trip to Birmingham. 

*subject to inflationary variation

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

Midlands of England