About Us

At Children's Sibley Heart Center, we’re committed to improving prevention and treatment of disease in children. Our researchers are seeking ways to improve the lives of children born with heart disease, also known as congenital heart disease or CHD, as they reach school age.

We see a large number of patients each year and work closely with nearby prestigious research institutes, including Emory University School of Medicine and Georgia Institute of Technology. Our experience and research partnerships allow us to take a leading role in congenital heart disease research.

The Emory+Children’s Pediatric Research Center, a partnership between Children’s and Emory University, is one of nine core sites in the Pediatric Heart Network (PHN). Created and funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health), the PHN is a collaboration of clinical sites and a data coordinating center that conducts research studies in children with heart disease.

Learn more about the Pediatric Heart Network

Our Research

Biology

For children who face the world with serious heart defects, the Center for Cardiovascular Biology conducts research to discover new ways to repair hearts and make kids’ lives whole again.

Created in 2009, the center is pursuing numerous projects and draws from the experience of researchers who specialize in nanotechnology, the study and creation of molecular-sized nanoparticles to treat diseases. Researchers hope to help the next generation of children overcome heart disease.

These are just two of the projects showing promise:

  • c-kit protein – Researchers are examining a protein called c-kit, which is in heart cells only during the first few weeks after birth. When c-kit was inhibited in mice, scientists discovered these mice became “super athletes,” with hearts that worked harder and responded to injury better. This could be incredibly useful in such conditions as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS)—one of the most severe heart defects, in which the left ventricle doesn’t form properly. This study will help determine whether a child with HLHS can be treated with a c-kit inhibitor, which could allow his heart to respond better to a greater workload as he grows. 
  • Biological pacemaker – Researchers are attempting to create a biological pacemaker that would grow with a child and reduce the need for multiple surgeries, using stem cells that are transformed into heart cells. This study is an ideal example of how the center’s institutional collaboration is critical, since this project requires input from Georgia Tech and the Center for Pediatric Nanomedicine.

Learn more about the Center for Cardiovascular Biology

Clinical research

Heart researchers are conducting a number of clinical trials to discover new treatments and techniques in several areas of children’s heart care.

Find a Children’s clinical trial at clinicaltrials.gov
(Search for “Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta” and your child’s condition.

Anesthesiology

A Pilot Study of Thrombin Generation Changes in Neonates Undergoing Placement of a Blalock-Taussig Shunt

Principal investigator: Nina Ann Guzzetta, M.D.

A Blalock-Taussig (BT) shunt is a device that redirects blood flow into pulmonary circulation, which moves deoxygenated blood away from the heart to the lungs, and returns oxygen-rich blood back to the heart. It’s often placed in newborns with right-sided obstructive heart defects to improve blood flow. In the immediate hours after BT shunt surgery, it’s not uncommon for the newborn to experience complications due to blood clotting problems. This study explores the changes in thrombin generation, a critical part of clot formation, in newborns who undergo the surgery.

Catheterization lab

Comparison Between Surgical vs Balloon Angioplasty vs Intravascular Stent Placement for Recurrent or Native Coarctation of the Aorta

Principal investigator: Dennis Kim, M.D.

This study compares the safety and efficacy of three methods for treating coarctation, a narrowing of the aorta: surgical angioplasty, balloon angioplasty and stent placement. Angioplasty is a procedure that’s used to open arteries that are narrowed or blocked by plaque, a fatty buildup. It can be performed using a traditional open-heart procedure or a catheter-based procedure—a minimally invasive technique that uses a thin, flexible tube inserted through a small incision and threaded to the blocked area. Balloon angioplasty has a small balloon on the tip of the catheter that’s inflated at the blockage to compress the plaque against the artery wall. A stent is a small, expandable tube that’s inserted into the artery during angioplasty to hold open the artery.

Imaging

We’re widely recognized for our magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of the heart and our heart echocardiography (ultrasound) program. Our dedicated core laboratory, the Cardiac Imaging Research Core (CIRC), is developing new strategies to evaluate the heart under conditions of stress or exercise.

Our researchers are working with colleagues from Georgia Tech to use imaging technology to create a 3-D reconstruction of the heart. This will help us continue to improve the way we plan and carry out heart surgery in young patients.

Neurodevelopment

Researchers are exploring areas in which heart disease and neurological development impact one another. Our findings will help us develop new therapies to improve the quality of life for children with heart disease—everything from medications and traditional psychological therapy techniques to at-home strategies to help families.

Learning and social interaction

Research shows that a large percentage of children with congenital heart disease face academic challenges, including attention problems and difficulties planning and executing important daily tasks, known as executive function. In addition, there’s emerging evidence that these children may have problems interacting with their peers, which can have a serious impact in adolescence and young adulthood. Peer interaction is an important part of a child’s emotional development, including self-esteem and identity.

By evaluating children at 1 and again at 2 years old, we’re better able to understand the causes of these problems and develop therapies to improve outcomes.

Infant brain injury

Our researchers are analyzing infant brain injury and exploring the causes of the inflammatory process with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the latest translational tools. In preliminary results, we’ve found that more than 50 percent of newborns who require open heart surgery have injury to the white matter in their brain. We’re exploring how signals within the body, called cytokines, may contribute to this process. Researchers need to gather more information to understand the factors that contribute to early brain injury, but this research could help us prevent it more effectively.

Outcomes

More and more children with heart problems are living decades beyond what was expected in previous generations. But, sometimes this success comes at a high price: neurological problems, lingering heart problems and damaged organs due to years of poor blood flow.

The Center for Cardiac Outcomes Research is exploring ways to meet the long-term needs of children with heart disease and their families. Research goals are to:

  • Determine what improves the quality of life for most children with heart disease
  • Prevent future complications related to their heart condition
  • Use electronic medical records to do research and improve long-term follow-up care for these children

Researchers are involved in dozens of projects that include public health policy, clinical review and technical innovation. One current project is evaluating whether all newborns should receive screening that can detect previously missed heart defects—whether the rare chance that the screening catches a defect justifies the additional cost of the test. This is an example of how studies measure what’s both medically effective and cost effective.

In addition, the research team is exploring clinical practices to determine whether there are trends of consistently good long-term outcomes or if treatment at a certain point of a child’s development results in better outcomes when they’re adults.

Pediatric devices

From Buzzy—an electronic “bee” that takes away the pain of injections—to a heart valve that grows with a child, we look for new ways to make medical devices that make children more comfortable.

Most medical equipment is designed and intended for adults, but children have different needs—both physical and emotional. In addition, because kids are always growing, these medical devices often lack flexibility. That means children have to go through multiple rounds of surgery to replace outgrown heart stents and valves, along with numerous other implants. These surgeries put them at needless risk for bleeding, infection and clots.

In partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, we created the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium to address the special needs of children. This program, funded with $1.8 million grant from the Food and Drug Administration, is a joint effort among doctors, scientists and engineers to find ways to build equipment, implants and devices that are scaled and designed for kids.

Our first projects include developing a:

  • Smartphone attachment that allows real-time video consultation for ear infections
  • Renal dialysis device to replace existing machines meant for adults
  • Gel that delays the re-fusion of a child’s skull after surgery for craniosynostosis—a condition in which the stitches in an infant’s head prematurely fuse, causing abnormal head shape and facial features

Researchers are also looking at a number of high- and low-tech healthcare solutions for kids—from a new eye chart that uses hand motions instead of the alphabet to a quick test for pneumonia that uses a modified whistle or a kazoo.

Transplants

We are involved in a variety of studies that focus on the conditions that lead to heart failure and heart transplantation. Our researchers are seeking new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the conditions that can lead to transplantation. The research team is also investigating transplantation-related techniques and complications.

To further our efforts, we are involved in:

  • Pediatric Heart Transplant Study (PHTS): A study on children who’ve had a heart transplant. The goal is to review outcomes and learn more about heart transplantation.
  • Pediatric Cardiomyopathy Registry (PCMR): A study of children diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscle and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. The purpose of the study, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is to describe the course of the disease in children under 18. Researchers will also examine the patterns, causes and effects of the disease. Results will help doctors develop new treatments. 
  • Pediatric Heart Network (PHN): Funded by the NHLBI, the PHN is a group of hospitals in the U.S. and Canada that conducts research studies in children with heart disease.
  • Clinical Trials in Organ Transplantation in Children (CTOT-C): A cooperative research program, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that conducts clinical studies that will lead to improved outcomes for children who’ve received transplants.
  • Quantitative Detection of Circulating Donor-Specific DNA in Organ Transplant Recipients (DTRT): A NHLBI-funded study that will determine whether a particular blood test will show when a transplant patient begins to reject or is already rejecting the transplanted heart.
  • Pumps in Kids and Neonates (PumpKIN) trial: A NHLBI-funded study that tests devices to help children born with heart defects or those who develop heart failure.

Our areas of interest include:

  • Mechanical support of the failing heart
  • Heart failure management
  • Blood group incompatible transplants (donor and recipient don’t have compatible blood types) 
  • Noninvasive markers of transplant rejection
  • Antibody-mediated rejection, which occurs when a transplant recipient’s own antibodies attack (reject) the new transplant
  • Re-transplantation