Research and Other Scholarly Activities

The faculty leads multiple, active, clinical, translational, and basic research programs in cardiovascular disease. Kühn, as Director of research for the division, successfully established his research laboratory. Kühn was granted the inaugural Fund for Genomic Discovery Award for his study “Discovering Fibrosis Genes by Gene Expression Analysis in Single Heart Cells,” a project to identify the specific genes that cause heart tissue fibrosis in persons with congenital heart disease. Kühn also published his work “Stimulation of Cardiomyocyte Regeneration in Neonatal Mice and in Human Myocardium with Neuregulin” in the prestigious journal, Science Translational Medicine. The study helped to determine that neuregulin-1 (rNRG1) was most effective at improving myocardial function and reducing the prevalence of scarring when it was administered very early in the lifecycle. Although this work was performed with mice, it provides important insights as Kühn and his team work toward developing clinical trials focused on using rNRG1 to stimulate myocardial regeneration in pediatric heart patients. In acknowledgment of his accomplishments, Kühn was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2016. He was one of four new members from the University of Pittsburgh this year and the only one from Children’s Hospital.

The clinical research program is multifaceted, with clinical studies and trials in all aspects of pediatric cardiology, cardiac intensive care, and congenital heart surgery. Particular strengths include the research programs focusing on optimizing outcomes following pediatric heart and lung transplantation and the multidisciplinary program developing novel mechanical circulatory support devices for children with failing hearts. The electrophysiology program under the direction of Lee Beerman and Gaurav Arora has produced nine publications, including information on the use of three-dimensional mapping to reduce radiation exposure during electrophysiology procedures. Cardiac genetics research is being carried out in collaboration with Cecilia Lo. Lo is an internationally recognized expert on the genetics of congenital cardiovascular malformations. Brian Feingold continues his research into factors influencing the outcomes for pediatric heart transplant candidates and recipients. In addition, he is the institutional principal investigator for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)-funded Clinical Trials in Organ Transplantation in Children (CTOT-C). As director of one of the top interventional pediatric catheterization programs, Kreutzer has been instrumental in implementing novel procedures and technologies as part of multicenter trials, such as percutaneous Melody and Sapien valve implantation and hybrid procedures. Kreutzer is the national principal investigator for the Melody post-approval study and participates in COAST (Coarctation Stent Trials). Highlighting the division’s commitment to high-quality care, the program has been a long-standing and active participant in quality-improvement (QI) projects, including C3PO, C3PO-QI, Improving Pediatric and Adult Congenital Treatments (IMPACT Registry), National Pediatric Cardiology Quality Improvement Collaborative, Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Collaborative, Pediatric Cardiac Critical Care Consortium, Extracorporeal Life Support Organization, Pediatric Heart Transplant Study (PHTS), and Society of Thoracic Surgeons database. In addition, under the leadership of Stacey Drant and Jennifer Johnson, the pediatric echocardiography laboratory received commendation for quality, receiving reaccreditation from the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission at Children’s Hospital and Magee-Womens Hospital echocardiography laboratories.

Finally, the research arm of the cardiology division has continued development of a comprehensive cardiology database, based on a long-standing record of patients from the 1960s to the present and incorporating all programs within the Heart Institute. This powerful tool has allowed and will continue to enable research studies aimed at improving the lives of children and adults with congenital heart disease. This database, with more than 200,000 patients, highlights some of the program’s strengths and now includes special sections for heart-failure transplant patients and adults with congenital heart disease. The Division plans on adding a section for fetal cardiology.