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Congenital heart disease: improving treatment of babies and children born with heart defects

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What did the project achieve?

“We have created a new synthetic material and shown it is safe and has several helpful properties that could improve treatment for heart problems in babies and children,” says Dr Janice Tsui of University College London.

Congenital heart disease includes a range of heart problems that develop in the womb before a baby is born. As one of the most common birth abnormalities, they affect almost one in 100 babies born each year in the UK.1

One way to treat babies and children with heart conditions is by inserting small tubes, called stents, inside their blood vessels. These can help improve blood flow and provide support. But existing stents aren’t ideal, as they can damage blood vessels or cause clots – and they also don’t grow with the child.

Dr Tsui’s team developed a new synthetic material designed to coat stents and carried out a range of laboratory tests to investigate its suitability for use in babies and children.

“Our new material has favourable properties and is better tolerated than the material used in standard stents,” says Dr Tsui. “We have developed a way to coat stents with it, showing that this improves their function – including better elasticity, which is particularly important for use in a growing child.”

The researchers have also carried out initial safety tests on their coated stents, showing that they stay in place and don’t cause any unexpected issues.

“We now plan to carry out more tests with our covered stents to investigate their long-term effects and safety,” says Dr Tsui. “And we will also explore using our material with other stent designs.”


  1. NHS Choices website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/congenital-heart-disease/ [Website accessed 01 May 2018]

This research was completed on

Around one in every 150 babies in the UK is born with a heart defect, a problem which doctors call congenital heart disease.1,2 Surgeons often use small devices called stents to treat heart defects, but existing stents are not ideal for use in babies and children. Dr J Tsui, of University College London, is developing a new type of stent that can be tailor made especially for individual babies and children. She hopes to improve both the outcome of treatment and children’s quality of life.

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Heart defects are one of the most common type of defects present at birth.2 Devices called stents are widely used to treat heart defects. Stents are small tubes that are placed inside blood vessels. If a blood vessel is narrow or blocked, they can help keep it open, improving blood flow. They can also help to support weak blood vessels, stopping them from bursting.

When treating babies and children with heart defects, stents that are currently available have drawbacks. For example, they can tear blood vessels, causing potentially fatal bleeding. They can cause blood to clot, meaning babies need extra medication for six to 12 months after the stent has been inserted. What’s more, the size of existing stents is relatively fixed once they’ve been inserted. As babies grow, their blood vessels grow with them, but the stent does not, which can lead to further problems.

What is the project trying to achieve?

“We are developing a new type of stent especially for babies and children who were born with heart defects,” explains Dr J Tsui. “We hope that our new stents will help overcome some important disadvantages of existing devices. For example, we are coating the new stents with a special material that’s designed to lower the risk of complications, such as bleeding or clot formation. The size of the new stents could also be increased throughout the child’s lifetime, meaning they could effectively grow with the child, something which isn’t possible at the moment.”

In this project, Dr J Tsui's team is designing the new stents and performing all of the laboratory work that is needed before tests can begin in babies and children. “Ultimately, we believe our new stents might stop some children from needing open heart surgery, speed up recovery times and reduce the risks of surgery,” explains Dr J Tsui.



1. British Heart Foundation, Congenital Heart Disease http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/congenital-heart-disease.aspx Website accessed 30 April 2013.

2. NHS Choices, Congenital Heart Disease. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Congenital-heart-disease/Pages/Introduction... Website accessed 30 April 2013.


Project Leader Dr J Tsui
Project Team Dr A TzifaProfessor S QureshiProfessor R RazaviMiss Y RafieiDr B Cousin
Project Location Division of Surgery & Interventional Science, The Royal Free Hospital, University College London, Paediatric Cardiology Department, Evelina Children’s Hospital, United Medical
Project Location Other Dental School of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital and Division of Imaging Sciences, King's College London
Project duration 2 years
Date awarded 12 November 2012
Project start date 1 August 2013
Project end date 31 August 2016
Grant amount £149,374
Grant code GN2100


We do not provide medical advice. If you would like more information about a condition or would like to talk to someone about your health, contact NHS Choices or speak to your GP.