World Heart Day, served as a reminder to reduce cardiovascular risk

Heart conditions and brain development: DiscovHER celebrates the work of Dr. Johanna Calderon. One of 2014’s Postdoctoral L'Oréal-UNESCO fellowships, Dr. Calderon’s research is devoted to understanding – and reducing the impact of heart conditions on children’s cognitive development.

Researching heart anomalies and neurological risks

A research fellow in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, based at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Calderon’s research seeks to understand the nature of neurocognitive damage linked to premature births, open-heart surgery or neonatal brain injuries. The goal is to improve care for children who’ve suffered heart malformations to ultimately improve their lifelong outlook.

Children with serious heart disorders or born very prematurely, face major neurological risks early on. In fact, severe heart anomalies and premature births are a key cause of cognitive developmental problems which can affect the sufferer’s quality of life. Dr Calderon is concerned with analyzing these impacts and exploring potential cognitive re-education interventions to minimize and help children recover from such difficulties.

Congenital heart disease + neurodevelopmental impairment: the need to plug the research gap

While it’s known that children suffering congenital heart disease (CHD) run a greater risk of neurodevelopmental impairments such as ADHD and autism – little is known about treatment prevention. In her latest research Dr. Calderon with co-author Dr. David Bellinger, investigates, the “crucial gap in research into the effectiveness of prevention or treatment.” Their research examines the link between CHD and “executive function,” the set of mental skills that get things done. Any deficit in executive function can have “debilitating repercussions in children's neurocognitive, behavioural, and psycho-social development.” The good news is they are highly “amenable to improvement.” Dr. Calderon calls out the urgent need to develop interventions – such as computerised working memory training - to address executive function as early as possible in the child’s life.

A distinguished career, by the age of 30

Though just 30, Dr Calderon’s research has gained a number of distinctions, including Young Investigator Award in Pediatric Pathology Research, and the Best doctoral dissertation, Award Aguirre Basualdo Robin in Medicine. She has previously held research positions at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and the Université Paris René Descartes. 

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