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£1.4m award for research into childhood congenital heart disease

20 March 2015

Professor Massimo Caputo in the School of Clinical Sciences has been awarded £1.4 million by the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust to investigate the use of stem cell therapy for the repair of congenital heart abnormalities in very young children.

In the 1950s, eight out of 10 babies with complex congenital heart disease (CHD) died before their first birthday. Today, thanks to advances in treatment and care, more than eight out of 10 CHD babies grow up to be adults. However, the long-term outcomes for most of them remain poor, significantly affecting their quality of life. The lack of growth potential in the materials used to repair CHD is the biggest problem; hence a patient’s heart outgrows the graft and requires several risky and distressing operations. At the same time a significant proportion of these children develop right heart dysfunction and failure, for which very limited treatment options exist.

Professor Massimo’s team will work with colleagues at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children on the five-year project, which aims to create ‘live’ tissues using the patient’s own stem cells seeded on grafts used in everyday surgery. These cellular grafts will be tested in animal models that closely resemble the ‘real-world’ scenario and tested for their capacity to grow and regenerate the damaged heart. The cellular grafts that show the best results in the animal model will be investigated in a first-in-human safety study in infants with the heart condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot.

The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust supports a wide range of charitable causes in the UK. In keeping with the founder’s wishes, the Trust’s most significant grants finance important medical research.

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