Better treatment strategies for children with heart defects through international collaboration

Thanks to CAHAL’s international network*, new scientific insights are being rapidly implemented at LUMC and Amsterdam UMC

Professors Mark Haskamp and Nico Blum are pushing the boundaries of pediatric cardiology every day. With continuous improvement of quality guidelines in research, education, and patient care, they contribute to improving the diagnosis and treatment of (congenital) heart defects and arrhythmias worldwide. They don’t do it alone. The specialists at the Amsterdam-Leiden Center for Congenital Heart Defects (CAHAL) are in contact with colleagues all over the world.

Both professionals feel a calling to mean something in their field. “Not only do we want to consume knowledge, we want to do our part,” Bloom says. Hazekamp gestures. “We work in a relatively young and highly specialized field. Improving our field is an important part of our work. To really advance knowledge about congenital heart defects, international collaboration is essential.”

improving treatment strategies
The urgent need for international knowledge sharing relates to the rarity of (congenital) heart disorders and childhood arrhythmias. This involves complex procedures that are not often performed. “It’s very important to share the results of the treatments widely,” says Hazekamp, ​​who is currently working part-time in Lille to help set up the pediatric heart surgery program there. He’s done this before in Hamburg. Blum: “By comparing outcomes internationally, we know what works well and what doesn’t. With this knowledge, we can continue to improve our treatment strategies.”

International knowledge networks
Marc Hasekamp is Professor of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery and has been active for years, also as President, in the European Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery (EACTS), the largest network of knowledge in this specialty in the world. Nico Blum (Professor of Pediatric Cardiology, especially Pediatric Arrhythmias) was appointed President of the European Society of Pediatrics and Congenital Heart Disease (AEPC) earlier this year. This is a unique network that is committed to spreading knowledge about normal and diseased children’s hearts around the world.

Thanks to CAHAL’s international network*, new scientific insights are being rapidly implemented at LUMC and Amsterdam UMC. “We offer the latest treatments. This means that we apply the latest scientific ideas in practice,” says Hazekamp. He likes to give an example. “At CAHAL, we perform a complex double transposition operation for patients with congenital corrected transposition of the great vessels. This is a rare congenital defect of the heart, in which the ventricle is In the wrong place.” We learned the treatment from specialists in New York, but now doctors from all over the world come to us to learn how to do it.”

Global knowledge exchange
New scientific insights are incorporated into international quality requirements and guidelines. Because both academic centers have significant expertise in specialized treatments for congenital heart defects and arrhythmias, CAHAL experts are often asked to contribute to these high-quality documents. Within the AEPC, for example, Blom co-wrote new international educational quality guidelines for pediatric cardiologists. “In the past year, we’ve standardized the training requirements even more,” he says. “For example, pediatric cardiologists in training now have to take a European exam. As a result, they are all trained uniformly and to high standard requirements.”

good reputation
Since CAHAL was founded in 1995, much research has been carried out at LUMC and Amsterdam UMC, with more than 1,500 publications in scientific journals. In addition, more than 100 people have been promoted within CAHAL. “As a result, we have built up a good international reputation,” says Bloom. “Specialists from other countries inside and outside Europe come here to gain and exchange knowledge. For example, some pediatric cardiologists in Belgium and Portugal have been trained by us.”

Conversely, CAHAL employees also acquire knowledge abroad. “Recently, one of our pediatric cardiologists, who was training to become an interventional cardiologist, went to Munich to spend time with the specialists there,” Blum says. “And then he brought back new knowledge about how they did things a little differently there. And based on that information, we also take a closer look at how we work and where we can improve.”

Keep getting better
For many professionals, there is another good reason to come to CAHAL. There is a lot to investigate here. For example, LUMC has a large anatomic range of congenital heart defects. In addition, CAHAL has a large number of patients who have undergone treatment for transposition of the great vessels. This means that the two great arteries exiting the heart are opposite. CAHAL also has a successful program to treat the left small heart complex. Blom and Hazekamp stress the importance of continuing to investigate heart defects and arrhythmias as well as looking at how treated patients perform in the long term. “This way we gain new insights and this improves the field,” they both say.

*CAHAL is part of Amsterdam UMC and Leiden University Medical Centre.

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