Professor Massimo Caputo and his team at the University of Bristol are trying to find ways to stop the hearts of children and babies becoming damaged during heart surgery.
Stopping beating hearts
During open heart surgery, a technique called cardiopulmonary bypass diverts blood away from the heart before a special solution, called cardioplegic solution, is infused into the heart. This solution stops the heart beating so that the surgeons can perform an operation safely, when the heart is not moving.
During cardiopulmonary bypass, the heart doesn’t receive any oxygen-rich blood, but the cardioplegic solution is designed to try and protect the heart from any damage caused by this lack of oxygen. Although the solution offers some protection, the heart can still be damaged when blood flow is restored at the end of the operation.
Protecting little hearts from damage
Young or premature babies having surgery to correct congenital heart defects are particularly vulnerable to this type of damage. Professor Caputo has recently shown that sildenafil, a drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure in the lungs, can protect newborn rat hearts from damage.
Professor Caputo and his dedicated team are exploring whether adding sildenafil to cardioplegic solution during open heart surgery could further protect children’s little hearts during surgery.
New treatments for children’s hearts
Despite the need for life saving open heart surgery, some surgical procedures can themselves damage a child’s heart, causing scarring that puts them at risk of sudden cardiac death later in life.
With his colleagues at the University of Bristol Professor Caputo is also looking at ways to prevent the need for children born with a heart condition to have repeated operations.
Professor Caputo is Calum Morris’s surgeon. 11-year old Calum was born with a complex congenital condition called Truncus Arteriosus.
Find out more about Calum’s story and how his fourth surgery went.
Read more about how our contribution to congenital heart research over the years.