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Advanced Cardiovascular Phenotyping of the Fontan circulation (ref. BAP-2024-467)

The project will be conducted in the Lab on Cardiovascular Imaging and Modeling (supervised by prof. P. Claus) in close collaboration with the research unit on Congenital Heart Disease (supervised by prof. A. Vande Bruaene). During the project other (international) collaborators can be involved.

Unit website: https://gbiomed.kuleuven.be/en...

Project

  • The general project

The majority of patients born with single ventricle disease, undergo a Fontan operation, resulting in a circulation diverting all systemic venous blood directly to the pulmonary arteries, with passive blood flow through the lungs. The absence of a right heart results in an altered hemodynamic loading of the single left ventricle and a hemodynamic profile that deviates strongly from the normal cardiovascular system. The management of patients with this Fontan circulation is currently suboptimal because of an incomplete understanding of the subsequent remodeling because of this altered hemodynamics. This life-long change in loading leads to fibrosis in the univentricular myocardium, resulting in filling problems and (diastolic) heart failure later in life. This course resembles accelerated ‘aging’ of the ventricle.

Within this project we will take a step towards better understanding and treatment of Fontan patients, by developing new tools to assess the patient specific hemodynamical response to loading changes, to guide optimal diuretic therapy resulting in optimal filling, on top of which specific anti-fibrotic treatment will be investigated in a clinical crossover study design. We will implement new tools to study patient-specific responses to preload by developing a new tool to alter loading conditions non-invasively while studying the effect on the heart’s function during simultaneous magnetic resonance imaging. Together with this optimized hemodynamic assessment, new nuclear imaging techniques involving specialized nuclear imaging tracers will be applied to image to active process of collagen deposition by myofibroblasts leading to fibrotic stiffened ventricles and to assess antifibrotic treatment.

  • This specific PhD project

The specific aim of the PhD project is to develop a novel methodology to study the consequences of the Fontan circulation in a clinical setting. You will be working on both hardware and software developments. You will finetune a prototype device to shift blood volume within the body based on a negative pressure chamber to be used in combination with Magnetic Resonance Imaging for cardiac function. In combination, you will develop state-of-the-art (AI-based) image analysis tools to study univentricular heart function during preload changes and to analyse PET images of active fibrosis processes. These analysis tools will be designed with clinical application in mind. Therefore, you will also need to acquire knowledge on Medical Device Regulation in close collaboration with experts from our hospital.

Close interaction with the PhD researcher performing the clinical study will be an integral part of this PhD track.

Profile

We are looking for a highly motivated young researcher with a Master degree (or equivalent) in Biomedical Engineering, Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Computational Science, or related disciplines, to do research at the leading edge of biomedical engineering. You should be interested to develop dedicated hardware solutions as well as software.

Our research group focuses on integrating engineering with physiology, working closely together with an academic clinical center. Our group provides methodologies and offers support for clinical and basic researchers to define the research approach, from basic understanding of the disease to clinical study. We select/design the appropriate investigational tools to assess the relevant physiological parameters and bring them into (clinical) practice. We develop appropriate processing techniques based on imaging and modeling and collaborate to interpret results and relate them to the pathophysiological knowledge. Therefore, willingness to invest into learning pathophysiology is a must.

Candidates have excellent teamwork and communication skills and are enthusiastic about collaborating with a diverse range of international partners. We expect them to be fluent in English as this will be the language used to interrelate with the different partners.

Offer

We offer a 4 year PhD scholarship (evaluation after 1 year).

A tailored training plan will be set up by selecting the best training opportunities in the PhD programme of KU Leuven and available initiatives within our collaborators. Physiology training will be organized depending on the needs and background of the researcher and the project and you are expected to join and lead discussion groups.

For more information please contact Prof. dr. Piet Claus, tel.: +32 16 37 46 53, mail: piet.claus@kuleuven.be or Prof. dr. Alexander Van De Bruaene, tel.: +32 16 32 15 22, mail: alexander.vandebruaene@kuleuven.be.

Apply before: 16/08/2024

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