It’s been an exciting year for pediatric health care. As Thanksgiving draws near, Vector is taking a pause to acknowledge the inspiring people and ideas that are helping set the table for a better future.
What are we thankful for?
The growing cadre of citizen scientists — passionate parents pushing for answers for their kids, helping to move rare disease research forward through their own investigations and initiatives. They’re keeping academic researchers honest and on top of their game, and, in many cases, helping to fund them.
The growing inclination among clinicians to say, “the way things are isn’t good enough,” and then push the boundaries of what’s possible to improve sick children’s lives.
“Precision medicine” looks to be heading down the same path as “big data” and “innovation”: The term is becoming so widely used that it threatens to detract from the real impact it is already having in patients’ lives.
But for children, who are still developing and have the most to gain, precision medicine is more than a bumper sticker. On the micro scale, early genetic testing—perhaps routinely, someday, in newborns—can help guide medical care, targeted therapies and preventive strategies based on a child’s genetic makeup. On a macro scale, big data from the larger population becomes a predictive tool, guiding medical decisions that could be life-altering in a still-malleable child.
“If you can make an early diagnosis, you can amplify the effects of what you do, rather than try to change the highways once they’re built,” said Wendy Chung, MD, PhD, of Columbia University Medical Center during a panel discussion last week at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards (#PedInno15).
Boston Children’s Hospital and Rock Health, a venture fund dedicated to digital health, announced a strategic partnership aimed at accelerating pediatric health technologies during the hospital’s 2015 Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards. Bridget Duffy, MD, is chair of Rock Health, chief Medical Officer of Vocera and co-founder of the Experience Innovation Network.
As a physician, entrepreneur, and especially as a parent, I am excited and inspired by a partnership between Rock Health and Boston Children’s Hospital to identify promising companies and cultivate emerging technologies focused on transforming pediatric care. Together, Rock Health and Boston Children’s Hospital will seed bigger ideas, accelerate adoption of new solutions, and massively change the way medicine is delivered to every child.
A global leader in pediatric clinical care, Boston Children’s Hospital will lend its expertise to support Rock Health’s portfolio and help shape the next generation of innovations. While Rock Health already has a proven track record with companies in this space, such as Kurbo Health, Cellscope and Kinsights, this close relationship with Boston Children’s will greatly accelerate the design and evaluation of new solutions, improving the health care experience for children and their caregivers.
Part of the problem may be that, until now, the right tools haven’t been available to exploit GWAS data. But a few recent studies—including two out of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center—have used GWAS data to identify therapeutically promising targets, and then manipulated those targets using the growing arsenal of gene editing methods.
Some people bring data and completed designs. Others just bring simple sketches. “We have this idea for this device,” they begin. “It may only help 15 kids a year, but it could really improve their quality of life.”
Other people bring only a clinical need: “We need something to keep babies lying still after their procedure, without having to medicate them.”
To make these ideas more tangible and help launch them down a formal development path, the Boston Children’s Hospital Simulator Program, SIMPeds, has begun making its 3D printing and engineering service available to help hospital staff rapidly prototype new devices.
Want to hack something in medicine? Vendors are increasingly eager to contribute their tools to problem-solving teams, like those who will gather November 14 for Boston Children’s Hospital’s Hacking Pediatrics. Seeing an array of tools presented at a showcase at Boston Children’s last week, I felt excited about the possibilities ahead.
Here are a few tools that can help innovators improve health care for patients, caregivers and providers.
3-D printing is rapidly becoming a part of surgical planning. Since July 2013, Boston Children’s Hospital’s 3-D printing service, part of the Simulator Program, has received about 200 requests from 16 departments around the hospital. It’s generated a total of about 300 prints, most of them replicating parts of the body to be operated on.
Most prints take between 4 and 28 hours to produce. The largest to date—an entire malformed rib cage—took 105 hours and 35 minutes to create and weighed 8.9 pounds. The smallest—a tiny tangle of blood vessels in the brain—took 4 hours and 21 minutes and weighed 1.34 ounces. Here is sampling of what’s been coming off the production line.
The afterbirth has generally been an afterthought, but that’s about to change.
This week, 19 research centers were awarded grants from NIH’s Human Placenta Project, which is seeking to learn more about the intricate organ that sustained us in the womb, the interface between us and our mothers.
No two hearts are alike. It sounds like poetry, but this adage takes on a special meaning for pediatric cardiac surgeons.
Children born with congenital heart disease have unique cardiac anatomies. To correct them, surgeons need a nuanced understanding of each structure and chamber of the heart, and for decades have relied on (increasingly sophisticated) imaging technology.
Soon, though, they will be able to touch, turn and view replicas of their patients’ hearts up close. Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and MIT have jointly designed a computer program that can convert MRI scans of a patient’s heart into 3-D physical models.