Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Healing Oxygen

Raising oxygen in foetuses with congenital heart defects can help correct the problem

21 April 2021

Healing Oxygen

Foetal ultrasound scans give pregnant mothers a heartwarming glimpse of their unborn babies. But importantly, during the second trimester, around 20 weeks of pregnancy, they also detect congenital heart defects. The severity of some heart defects can be reduced in the womb by treating the mothers with hyperoxygenation (high levels of oxygen). Researchers now use mice to investigate whether hyperoxygenation can improve congenital heart defects caused by mutations in the Nkx2-5 gene. Foetal Nkx2-5 mutant hearts (pictured, bottom) had excessive sponge-like tissue and defects in the septum that separates the two halves of the heart when compared to normal hearts (top), as revealed by micro-CT. Intermittently giving pregnant mice carrying these mutant foetuses 40% oxygen in their first trimester improved these defects. This gives hope that pregnant women and their partners who test positive for Nkx2-5 mutations could someday similarly treat their unborn babies' heart defects during the first trimester.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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