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Groundbreaking Madison research helping babies with heart defects


Amber Noggle’s son Dax in the hospital before heart surgery.

MADISON (WKOW) — Capturing those first moments of your baby’s life is like watching a miracle unfold.

But for many families, that joy can change in an instant.

“When you hear news of an unexpected finding, it’s like your world stops, voices stop, sounds stop,” says Barb Trampe, a sonographer at UnityPoint Health-Meriter.

“Nobody ever wants to find a problem, nobody ever wants to see a problem, but if one is there, it’s nice to know about it ahead of time so that you can plan and try to understand what’s going on before the baby gets here.”

Those answers are becoming clearer, thanks to groundbreaking research in Madison.

Inside a lab at the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, they’re creating three dimensional models of fetal hearts, made from ultrasound images.

The models capture exactly what a baby’s heart with defects will look like and how it will function, before they’re born.

“It was still great to see that we could recreate all the chambers , potentially valves, potentially inflow and outflow,” says Dr. J. Igor Iruretagoyena, Maternal Fetal Medicine Division Director at UnityPoint Health-Meriter.

Dr. Shardha Srinivasan is a pediatric cardiologist who’s played a big role in the research.

“The teams have gotten bigger and each one of us has a separate area of expertise and it allows us all to talk in the same language and plan better.”

The Madison lab is the only place in the world they’ve successfully pumped fluid through a 3D fetal heart, simulating blood flow.

“We put those models with flow in the MRI and measure things that we couldn’t even begin to think about measuring even five years ago,” says Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos, Chief of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at American Family Children’s Hospital.

The research is game changing for surgeons like him.

He’s performed more than a thousand life saving operations on babies like Amber Noggle’s son, Dax, who was born with Tetrology of Fallot.

“This is kind of like the holy grail,” he says. “Because the next step is figuring it out before the surgery, so that, potentially, you can alter or predict what the surgery’s going to look like… So that you choose different configurations.”

And this is only the beginning.

Alejandro Roldán-Alzate, Ph.D runs the lab and is with the UW Department of Mechanical Engineering and the UW Department of Radiology.

“What I’m really interested in is to 3D print the models and simulate exercises, simulate conditions that put the kids under stress that you could not do with the kids,” he says. “If we can predict when it’s going to fail after repair, we can optimize that repair to be successful from the get go.”

Improving outcomes for families.

To be able to give people information is a huge gift, to be able to say, “This is what we see, this is what’s going on, This is what’s going to happen.’ And then to be able to help you get through it.”

The research was published in the American Heart Association Journals in September 2018.

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