Summary

Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is the most commonly occurring congenital abnormality. The incidence of CHD In Northern Ireland ranges from 8-10 per 1000 live births and there are approximately 200 children born each year with abnormalities of varying complexity. Approximately 120 children from N.I. will require heart surgery each year. In the current era the survival rates through surgery are very high with at least 85% now surviving through to adulthood. Our focus in terms of measuring “successful” treatment has now moved from focusing only on survival to measuring success in realtion to quality of life outcomes.  Physical activity and exercise participation is a key determinant of successful outcome and we have shown in previous work published by our group that  increased exercise participation can improve both physical and psychological well-being in children with CHD.

The Paediatric Cardiology Department at The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC) manages the acute cardiac care and long term follow-up of all children born with congenital heart disease in Northern Ireland. This gives a unique opportunity to ascertain complete follow-up information on  the whole population with CHD born in the region.

Main Research questions

1.Do children and adolescents participate in sufficient physical  activity to protect their long-term cardiovascular health.

2.How does CHD affect physical activity and exercise opportunities offered to children in the school setting.

3.What is level of knowledge of parents, teachers and sports coaches in relation to exercise and it’s importance in children treated for CHD.

Study sample and Methods

Children and adolescents aged 5-15 years who have had surgery for CHD and are under the care of the Northern Ireland Paediatric Cardiology service will be recruited to the study. The study population will be identified from the “Heartsuite” database held by The Paediatric Cardiology Department at RBHSC. This database has detailed data on all children under the care of the Regional service.

PPI involvement in study design will occur through collaboration with the Children’s Heartbeat Trust parent support group for families affected by CHD in Northern Ireland.

Physical activity will be assessed through both self-report and  objectively measured using accelerometry. Structured interviews with parents, teachers and coaches will be used to assess levels of awareness and understanding of the importance of exercise in CHD. Exercise capacity will be assessed in a submaximal treadmill or cycle ergometer test.

Impact

1.The study will give a profile of the lifestyle and activity levels of a large group of young people who have had surgery for CHD

2.The data will identify opportunities to intervene and modify activity for individual patients and as a consequence improve their well-being and future prognosis.

3.Identification of deficits in knowledge in parents, teachers and other professionals around exercise in CHD.

4.Instigation of individual “exercise prescription” for affected children and adolescents.

The successful candidate for this studentship will have a degree or higher level degree in a health or exercise related discipline and experience undertaking a research project.

Experience conducting exercise tests OR assessing physical activity OR carrying out interviews with research participants would be beneficial but not essential.

This will be one of the first studentships offered under the newly established Paediatric Cardiology research programme in Ulster University arising from the development of the All-Island Paediatric Cardiology Network


AccessNI clearance required

Please note, the successful candidate will be required to obtain AccessNI clearance prior to registration due to the nature of the project.


Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.


Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,840 (tbc) maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £8,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,840 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

  • Candidates with pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, who also satisfy a three year residency requirement in the UK prior to the start of the course for which a Studentship is held MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance.
  • Republic of Ireland (ROI) nationals who satisfy three years’ residency in the UK prior to the start of the course MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance (ROI nationals don’t need to have pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme to qualify).
  • Other non-ROI EU applicants are ‘International’ are not eligible for this source of funding.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living


Recommended reading

Exercise prescription improves exercise tolerance in young children with CHD: a randomised clinical trial. Callaghan S, Morrison ML, McKeown PP, Tennyson C, Sands AJ, McCrossan B, Grant B, Craig BG, Casey FA. Open Heart. 2021 May;8(1)

Exercise training improves activity in adolescents with congenital heart disease. Morrison ML, Sands AJ, McCusker CG, McKeown PP, McMahon M, Gordon J, Grant B, Craig BG, Casey FA. Heart. 2013 Aug;99(15):1122-8.

The prevalence of congenital anomalies in Europe. Dolk H, Loane M, Garne E. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2010;686:349-64

Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Among Children With Congenital Heart Disease: At-Risk Populations and Modifiable Risk Factors. Ryan KR, Jones MB, Allen KY, Marino BS, Casey F, Wernovsky G, Lisanti AJ. World J Pediatr Congenit Heart Surg. 2019 Nov;10(6):750-758.

Exercise and Congenital Heart Disease. Wang J, Liu B. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;1000:95-101

The benefit of exercise in children with congenital heart disease. Selamet Tierney ES. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2020 Oct;32(5):626-632


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