A new state-of-the-art facility dedicated to pediatric cardiac imaging and intervention, co-established by the National Institutes of Health and Children’s National Medical Center, was opened with a special dedication ceremony today. The new facility, located at Children’s National in Washington, D.C., is the culmination of a long collaboration combining the cardiac imaging expertise at the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) with the renowned clinical care at Children’s National.
“This partnership truly exemplifies the NHLBI mission,” said Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., director of the NHLBI. “Working with an esteemed partner in our community, we can start translating research advances to the bedside of children across the world. Together, we may greatly reduce, or possibly even avoid, the need for invasive surgery or potentially harmful radiation when diagnosing and treating children with heart problems.”
“This unique partnership will advance clinical care for children across the region and around the world,” said Kanishka Ratnayaka, M.D., an interventional pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National. “The collaborating team at the NIH has worked for decades on optimizing cardiac MRI. We’re excited to bring this brain trust here to Children’s National and the NIH is excited to come here with the goal of improving the way we diagnose and treat children with heart disease.”
Heart problems in children are rarer than those in adults, but they represent a significant burden on children and their families. Almost 1 percent of newborns – more than 35,000 babies a year –have a congenital heart defect, many of which can be life threatening. Identifying and repairing these defects in children or infants requires overcoming unique challenges. These include working on a smaller and more delicate heart, the difficulty in having children lie still for imaging procedures, increased sensitivity to radiation damage from X-rays, and the need for supportive devices like incubators.
The NIH/Children’s National Interventional Cardiac Magnetic Resonance (ICMR) program brings together researchers, clinicians, engineers, and physicists to overcome these obstacles. Working at the new ICMR suite at Children’s in Washington, D.C. and the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., the ICMR team will focus on technology development, predominantly in the area of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is radiation-free.
Initiatives will include: enhancing the speed and quality of MRI machines to reduce the need to sedate children receiving an MRI; increasing the capability of MRI to take fetal images; developing better, pediatric-specific catheters for probing the heart and blood vessels; and incorporating an incubator into an MRI scanner to enable procedures on premature babies.
As part of the collaboration, clinical fellows from Children’s National can come to the NIH campus and learn from researchers at the NHLBI, which has a strong history of applying cardiac imaging technologies to adult populations. For example, NHLBI research teams recently demonstrated that an MRI-guided catheter procedure can be as quick and effective as an X-ray-guided procedure, and worked on a next-generation computed tomography (CT) scanner that can take ultra-fast images while reducing radiation exposure by more than 90 percent.
"This is a great opportunity to take the engineering and clinical efforts we have made in real-time MRI and apply them to diagnostic and therapeutic approaches in children,” said Robert Balaban, Ph.D., scientific director of the NHLBI intramural program. “This collaboration with Children’s National investigators will focus our efforts on important improvements in pediatric medicine, while also offering opportunities for small businesses to take new discoveries to the marketplace.”
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