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This research seeks to discover causes of congenital heart disease (CHD), the most common birth defect, to find new methods for prevention and treatment. Another major focus is to develop strategies for helping parents understand this information to better equip them for making decisions about their child’s medical care.

Hands Holding Puzzle Pieces with Heart

Knowing that CHD is complex in nature, the project tackles congenital heart disease from multiple angles. One team is researching the impact of a mother’s intrauterine environment on a fetus’ developing heart. When a placenta does not function properly, the fetus may be at risk for developing heart defects. This team will investigate this relationship and uncover placental factors that lead to an unhealthy heart.

A computational group will leverage Utah’s unique big data resources to uncover the genetic and environmental factors that cause CHD. By integrating electronic medical records with family history and demographic information from the Utah Population Database (UPDB), they are searching for genetic markers that signal who is at risk for developing the disorder.

Population health scientists will create materials and develop methods so parents can understand their child’s diagnosis, and the risks and benefits of all treatment options. The goal is to help them become active participants moving forward.

Together, the multidisciplinary groups are finding new methods for prevention and treatment. University of Utah Health is one of four groups located across the country working together in AHA’s Strategically Focused Research Network (SFRN) for children.