Research study investigates how preterm birth affects heart function in adulthood

Dr. Kara Goss

One in 10 live births in the United States are considered preterm (less than 37 weeks completed gestation). The health consequences of preterm birth can extend into adulthood, affecting multiple organs. For example, while lung disease is the most frequently recognized complication of prematurity, the heart is also affected: adults born moderately to extremely preterm have a 3-fold increased risk for the development of pulmonary vascular disease and a 17-fold increased risk for heart failure.

Kara Goss, MD, assistant professor, Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, has received funding from the American Heart Association for a project entitled, "Impaired Cardiac Functional and Metabolic Efficiency in Young Adults Born Preterm." The grant provides $231,000 over three years.

Dr. Goss will investigate the cardiac function of a group of 265 adults who were born premature between 1988 and 1991 and who have been followed as part of the Newborn Lung Project. 

"Our previous research has shown that these young adults have lower exercise tolerance, early pulmonary vascular disease, impaired cardiac reserve, and decreased cardiac efficiency," said Dr. Goss. Cardiac reserve is the difference between the rate at which the heart pumps blood and its maximum capacity for pumping blood.

"This study will investigate cardiac function more closely in adults born preterm so we can better understand how the heart has been affected by the experience of premature birth," said Dr. Goss. The study will use advanced imaging techniques - cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cardiac positron emission tomography (PET) imaging -  to assess cardiac function and metabolism in study volunteers. 

Scientists will also use a laboratory assay to measure mitochondrial function, which can be an indication of heart muscle that is not working properly.