INDIANAPOLIS—IU School of Medicine researchers have received a Department of Defense Discovery Award of $200,000 to study a common congenital heart defect in babies called coarctation of the aorta.
The aorta is the main artery that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Coarctation of the aorta is a congenital heart condition where there is a narrowing of the aorta that obstructs blood flow to vital organs. It could develop by itself, or in combination with other heart defects—including along with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, one the most severe forms of congenital heart defects.
“Critical coarctation of the aorta is immediately life-threatening and treatment currently requires cardiothoracic surgery that is invasive and technically challenging,” said Benjamin Landis, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Cardiology. “Perioperative complications may have longstanding repercussions on the child’s ability to thrive and develop normally. There is also evidence that even an excellent surgical repair does not cure the patient of long-term cardiovascular risks.”
Landis and his collaborator Yunlong Liu, PhD, who is the director of the IU Center for Computational Biology & Bioinformatics, plan to use single-cell RNA sequencing of aortic tissues that are removed during cardiothoracic surgery of infants with severe coarctation of the aorta to learn more about the cells that make up the defect, which they hope could ultimately lead to new medical treatment options instead of surgery.
“Single-cell RNA sequencing is a technology that can measure gene expression levels in each individual cell,” Landis said. “This process is well-suited for studying coarctation, which often has a complex geometrical structure and contains multiple different types of cells in the tissue.”
Landis said defining the pathobiology early in the disease process can help them identify medical targets responsive to early interventions which could prevent later development of cardiovascular diseases or re-development of coarctation of the aorta.
“This project will be the first of its kind to perform single-cell RNA sequencing in patients with coarctation of the aorta,” Landis said. “This could be the first step toward a more complete understanding of the disease processes that are active in neonates and help us identify treatments to prevent chronic comorbidities and avoid future need for interventions. The Department of Defense Discovery Award funding is pivotal for us to be able to embark on this exciting research.”
IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.