In April this year, a ground-breaking research project will be launched at the three largest maternity wards in Denmark. All parents-to-be at these hospitals will be offered a scan of their baby's heart shortly after birth. The goal is to find children born with congenital heart conditions that would previously be undetected. A total of 36,000 babies are expected to undergo a scan.
"The most severe heart conditions in newborns are discovered through scans during pregnancy. However, several minor heart conditions are difficult to detect in the foetus. This new project will generate more knowledge about the frequency of the individual diseases. We can also offer follow-up for children who turn out to have a heart disease," said Professor Henning Bundgaard, DMSc, from the Department of Cardiology at Rigshospitalet. Professor Bundgaard and Kasper Iversen, Consultant, DMSc, from the Department of Cardiology at Herlev Hospital, are behind the project, which includes cardiologists, obstetricians and paediatricians from the three hospitals.
About 22,000 Danes live with a congenital heart condition. "Copenhagen Baby Heart" aims to obtain more knowledge about the frequency and types of congenital heart diseases. This is the first project ever to be conducted on such a large group of newborns.
Parents-to-be will be informed about the scanning project during pregnancy.
"We believe that parents will welcome the offer. The scan takes about ten minutes and can be carried out while the child is still in hospital after birth, or when the family comes in for the regular PKU blood test or hearing screening," said Dr. Iversen.
After the scan, the parents will be notified if any abnormal conditions have been found. If there are any signs of irregularities, the scan will be reviewed by a cardiologist. If a heart condition is detected, the hospital will draw up a follow-up plan together with the parents. The scan does not cause any discomfort to the babies.
Physicians expect that the new scans will reveal conditions such as heart valve anomalies and diseases in the heart muscle.
"Some of these conditions will not affect the child until it is an adult. But in other cases, the child will benefit from treatment or regular check-up. We expect that the follow-up will reduce the child's suffering, or prevent it entirely, during this type of congenital condition," said Professor Bundgaard.
Great opportunities for research
As part of the research project, the hospitals will also collect blood from the babies' umbilical cord. The blood will be stored in a biobank and used in further research:
"Combining the results from the scans with the results from the blood tests, will give us an even better understanding of heart disease. We also expect to be able to offer the children a follow-up programme. This will generate unique research results that can provide new knowledge about diseases and new treatments. The project is a population screening that can provide new research results many years ahead," said Dr. Iversen.
The majority of the project budget of DKK 18 mill. has been financed by a private foundation, and funding for the rest of the project is under application.
For more information, visit www.baby-heart.dk (only in Danish)
Professor Henning Bundgaard, DMSc, email@example.com or telephone +45 2611 2290.
Kasper Iversen, Consultant, DMSc, firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +45 2871 2753.