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Media Release: $3 million for Congenital Heart Disease Research

More than $3 million has been awarded to the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute to identify the predisposing conditions and potentially modifiable factors that can substantially reduce the risk of congenital heart defects.

The funding is from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund’s (MRFF) Cardiovascular Health Mission  to boost research into heart disease and stroke.

Each year in Australia, it is estimated 2,400 babies are affected with congenital heart disease. People with complex and severe congenital heart disease require specialist treatment throughout their life.

Professor Anton Middelberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) says The University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute is internationally recognised for excellence in research in the fields of fertility, pregnancy and child health.

“This funding will allow further critical research on understanding the range of factors that contribute to congenital heart defects affecting the lives of many children,” Professor Middelberg said.

“This research will lead to a much better understanding of congenital heart defects, and ultimately help with prevention strategies, earlier detection and improved outcomes for patients and families”. Professor Michael Davies, Robinson Research Institute, The University of Adelaide

Professor Michael Davies from the Lifecourse and Intergenerational Health Research Group at the Robinson Research Institute says congenital heart defects affect the normal function of the heart, and are present at birth.

“We will examine the factors, that together with genetics, can affect the maternal environment prior to and during pregnancy,” Professor Davies said.

“This will help us discover what alters the earliest stages of human development, particularly through the cardiovascular system, that can lead to developmental anomalies in future generations.

“We are using a whole of population approach and have assembled a census of all births in South Australia from 1986 to 2015 that have been linked to the births defect registry, routine medicines prescribed around the time of conception, and targeted interventions for infertility that may alter fetal development.”

The research group will identify what contributes to congenital heart defects ranging from maternal pre-existing factors such as age, BMI, chronic disease; the emergent diseases in pregnancy such as preeclampsia and diabetes; the use of prescription medicines known or suspected to have a role in congenital anomalies; and the medical interventions associated with the risk of congenital heart defects such as twin pregnancies from IVF, and ovulation induction drugs used to improve fertility.

“We will also link in routine educational data to assess accompanying intellectual development for affected children using standardised assessment tools such as NAPLAN and the Australian Early Development Index, and compare all results with international population groups in Canada and the USA,” Professor Davies said.

“This research will lead to a much better understanding of congenital heart defects, and ultimately help with prevention strategies, earlier detection and improved outcomes for patients and families.”

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