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Colleen Witzenburg
February 4, 2020

Witzenburg earns grant to help guide children’s heart surgeries

Written By: Tom Ziemer


Surgery is an essential intervention for children born with congenital heart defects. But when exactly should surgeons operate on a particular child? That’s less clear—and the timing can have major ramifications for the future growth of the heart and pulmonary blood vessels.

Colleen Witzenburg, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, aims to provide clinicians with a tool to determine the best time to operate on each child.

She’ll use a $231,000, three-year grant from the American Heart Association and Children’s Heart Foundation to build upon her previous work creating mathematical models to predict long-term changes in the size and thickness of the heart after surgery.

Current modeling techniques can only estimate blood flow and pressure immediately after surgery; Witzenburg’s modeling has accurately predicted structural changes in the hearts of adult animals months after a surgery. Now, she plans to expand and adapt that model for children with congenital heart defects.

“Our model has great potential, because a doctor could explore multiple surgical dates the same day they see the child and select the best time to operate,” she says. “This will reduce each child’s risk of heart failure and increase the length and quality of their life.”