From “Buzzy”—an electronic “bee” that takes away the pain of injections—to a heart valve that grows with its patients, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is examining new ways to make medical devices that are the perfect fit for pediatric patients.
Whether it’s pacemakers for the heart or renal dialysis machines, much of the medical equipment for pediatric patients is intended for adults. That means—similar to ill-fitting hospital gowns—it might get the job done, but with a lack of precision.
In addition, because kids are always growing, these medical devices often lack flexibility. Instead, patients often have to go through multiple rounds of surgery to replace outgrown heart stents and valves, along with numerous other implants. And that puts them at needless risk for bleeding, infection and clots.
But Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, is working to fix this situation. And last year, they created the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium.
This program, newly funded with $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is a collaborative effort between doctors, scientists and engineers to find ways to build equipment, implants and devices that are scaled and designed for kids.
“This is a win-win for everyone,” said Kevin Maher, a consortium co-director, and pediatric cardiologist at Children's. “We’re not dealing with pie-in-the-sky stuff, but concrete ideas with solid scientific principles that will produce better and safer therapies for children. The long-term aim being improved health for children; it doesn’t get any better than that.”
There are three key projects that are slated for the center’s first wave of innovation, said Maher. They include:
- A smartphone attachment that would allow for real-time video consultation for ear infections
- A renal dialysis device that would replace the machines meant for adults now
- A gel that would delay the re-fusion of a child’s skull after surgery for craniosynostosis, a condition where the sutures in an infant’s head prematurely fuse, causing abnormal head shape and facial features.
But the center is also looking at a myriad of high-tech and low-tech health care solutions for kids—from a new eye chart that uses hand motions instead of the alphabet, to a rapid test for pneumonia—that could be outfitted with a modified whistle or a kazoo.
“This has been very rewarding on a professional and personal level,” said Maher, who has three children himself. “I’ve taken care of very sick cardiac patients, and often, I’ve thought (in certain situations), ‘There’s got to be a much better way to do this.’
“Now we have the opportunity and environment to actually find a way,” he said, “and invent a solution.”