University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

Brain Injury and Development in Newborns with Congenital Heart Disease

Research Area

Grant Type



In the United States, 30,000 children are born each year with congenital heart disease, and 50% of these children will require open-heart surgery for correction of their defect. Developmental deficits in children with congenital heart disease are a serious problem and may be seen in more than one third of these newborns. However, the reasons for developmental deficits in these children are largely unknown. It remains unknown if the brain injury leading to developmental disabilities in these newborns occurs prior to, during, or following their cardiac surgery.

Our goal is to better understand the changes in brain structure and function that underlie the developmental deficits seen in newborns with heart disease, and to determine when these changes occur. This will be done by studying a group of newborns with congenital heart disease using advanced magnetic resonance (MR) techniques shortly before open-heart surgery, and again soon after surgery. The MR techniques used in this study include MR imaging, diffusion tensor imaging and spectroscopic imaging. These newborns will then be followed in childhood to determine their neurological and developmental outcomes.

Many physicians consider brain injury to be the major remaining challenge in caring for newborns with heart disease. The ability of these MR imaging techniques to detect which newborns have abnormalities of the brain will help parents and physicians better care for these infants. The longer-term goal of this research program will be to test new strategies to prevent brain injury in newborns with heart disease.