Kathryn Osteen - Stay inquisitive, stay curious, stay active in your care. – An interview with Dr. Ai Wern Chung
Dr. Kathryn Osteen is an adult survivor of CHD and an American Heart Association and The Children’s Heart Foundation volunteer who spoke with Dr. Ai Wern Chung, American Heart Association and The Children's Heart Foundation Research Fellow, Fetal-Neonatal Neuroimaging & Developmental Science Center | Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Chung’s research was selected for the most recent round of funding from the Congenital Heart Defect Research Awards, co-funded by the American Heart Association and The Children’s Heart Foundation.
I had the distinct pleasure to discuss with Dr. Chung her research project co-funded by The Children’s Heart Foundation and the American Heart Association, entitled: Exploring information transport in structural networks as an MRI biomarker for altered brain organization in adult CHD.
Dr. Chung is a post-doctoral researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School who traveled from the United Kingdom (UK) to continue her research in neurodevelopment. Interestingly, Dr. Chung began her career by completing a Computer Science degree from Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. After this degree, she followed what sparked her interest: medical physics and neuroimage processing. She wanted to do something that mattered and obtained a research assistant position in the Stroke and Dementia Unit at St. George’s University of London, then a post-doctoral research position with the Biostatistics Group at the Centre for the Developing Brain at King’s College London, UK. Dr. Chung is drawn to this research area due to the unknown effect CHD has on brain development and function. Her previous research work with mapping brain networks relating to mild traumatic brain injury, stroke, and small vessel disease in aging, has led to her current post-doctoral fellowship appointment and CHD-specific research.
Dr. Chung’s study is an extension of the Boston Circulatory Arrest Study: Antecedents and Correlates of Well-Being in Adults with Congenital Heart Disease (BCAS). The participants in Dr. Chung’s study are a cohort of individuals with dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries (d-TGA) who participated in the original BCAS study as newborns, and are now adults. Dr. Chung’s study uses a special kind of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), called diffusion MRI, to see non-invasively how the brain is 'wired'. This special MRI tool can help answer whether there is a connection between CHD, specifically d-TGA, and brain development which could lead to altered brain function. Using a complex mathematical model derived from network theory with diffusion MRI helps to build networks that are a representation of connections between different brain regions, much like highways. Individuals use these intricate highways to send messages across brain regions in order to perform everyday life activities, like brushing teeth, walking, or making decisions.
Dr. Chung explained her research by clarifying how the heart and brain are interconnected in d-TGA. In a d-TGA baby, the blood vessels from the heart to the brain and lungs are mixed up. As a result, the baby grows inside their mother with less oxygen nourishing their brain. Once the baby is born, surgery is performed early on to fix these blood vessels so the brain gets the normal amount of oxygen. Dr. Chung is examining how this decrease in brain oxygenation while in the womb effects brain network development and function. Especially interesting, is how this decrease in oxygen effects networks involved in an individual’s executive function (coping skills and the ability to deal with new situations), learning, social interactions, and well-being across the lifespan. Dr. Chung states, “We need to understand how these important brain networks are altered in adults with CHD to figure out better methods to improve long-term outcomes, both theirs and future survivors,” and encourages individuals with CHD to “stay inquisitive, stay curious, and stay active in your care.”