New NIH grant supports ongoing UTSW investigation of debilitating complications of blood clots in teens

DALLAS – June 23, 2021 – UT Southwestern will lead a multicenter investigation into why children and young adults experience decreased physical activity and shortness of breath after experiencing blood clots, thanks to a four-year $2.97 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Ayesha Zia, M.D.

The incidence of pediatric blood clots, especially deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) in teens, has dramatically increased in the past decade, affecting, on average, 1 in every 200 hospitalized children in the U.S. The federal grant, through the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, will allow UT Southwestern to expand ongoing research into understanding and treating this emerging hematological problem.

Ayesha Zia, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at UTSW and a pediatric hematologist at Children’s Health, has been studying DVT (blood clots in extremities) and PE (blood clots in lungs) in children and young teens for the past five years with support from the NIH. The newly approved grant will allow her to continue her work while leading a consortium that includes UTSW, Children’s, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Johns Hopkins, UT Arlington, the University of Florida, and Emory University to determine the functional limitations that affect children with chronic thromboembolic disease.

“The focus of other investigations in children has been on the recurrence of blood clots and the prevention of bleeding associated with blood thinners,” Zia says. “While highly relevant, these outcomes are not common in children and do not fully capture the functional limitations – exercise intolerance and shortness of breath – which frequently occur despite the use of blood thinners and which can impact these patients’ quality of life.” 

The additional NIH support will allow Zia to expand her research, which has established that blood clots in children, whether they are involved in competitive athletics or casual exercise, often result in lower physical activity levels compared to pre-blood clot physical activity.

“The children we studied with blood clots cited leg symptoms, fatigue, and shortness of breath as the reasons for decreased physical activity levels,” Zia says. “As a next step, I am investigating why these symptoms occur. We hope this research will provide new knowledge to understand, screen, diagnose, and manage exercise limitations following blood clots in children. We will study the lungs, heart, and muscles of blood clot survivors to understand the underlying mechanisms causing this problem.”

Once the causes of exercise intolerance and shortness of breath are better understood, the investigators will work to develop effective and specific treatments, Zia says. These therapies could include exercise training to target the mechanism, pulmonary rehabilitation, and/or muscle training to allow recovery from blood clots.  

Children’s Medical Center Dallas, served by physicians from the UT Southwestern Pediatric Group, is the only hospital in North Texas nationally ranked in all 10 pediatric specialties in the U.S. News & World Report annual Best Children’s Hospital rankings for 2021-2022.   

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 13 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,800 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 117,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 3 million outpatient visits a year.