Sometimes the littlest patients get the short end of the stick. Medical devices used in hospitals are seldom available in pediatric versions, especially for tiny preemies. Healthcare workers must adapt devices as best they can, but often they must resort to more invasive treatments or less effective therapies.
A new collaboration between the technology commercialization company of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCH) is coming to the rescue.
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The project will combine the medical expertise of CCH physicians with the technical and engineering capabilities of faculty at BGU, says Netta Cohen, chief executive officer of BGN Technologies.
The goal is to improve health outcomes for children by ensuring that the medical and surgical devices used to treat them are customized to their unique physiological differences.
“The pediatric sector of medical device development has been neglected throughout the years,” Cohen says. “Only a small fraction of medical research and development funding has been devoted to pediatric medicine.”
The reason comes down to dollars and cents: US Food and Drug Administration reports cite prohibitive development costs for pediatric devices as a significant barrier. Children represent just 10 percent of the total medical market, so it hasn’t made economic sense to develop pediatric devices. But it does make health sense.
Downsizing doesn’t do it
“It’s not just a matter of downsizing medical devices for adults,” Cohen tells ISRAEL21c. “You’re dealing with a difference in biology. The adaption on all levels will be done not just on scale but for the specific needs of children and babies identified by the hospital’s surgeons, and we hope to supply answers to everything.”
CCH is a leading US pediatric hospital and research center, and one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Richard Azizkhan, chief surgeon at CCH, explains that many devices currently used to treat children are actually miniaturized adult versions that do not sufficiently address the clinical needs of little ones.
“Pediatric patients vary greatly due to a range of differences in size, anatomy, activity levels and physiology,” he said. “The challenge with adapted devices is they frequently are not the ideal solution, especially for very small and fragile infants.”
The BGU-CCH collaboration, he continued, “is an opportunity to target new solutions and improve medical outcomes for children.”
Targeting real needs
In recent years, the amount of worldwide technology transfer from Israel’s universities has skyrocketed. BGN Technologies alone has signed agreements with biomedical industry leaders including Teva Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson. And engineering – from software to biomed – is huge in Israeli academia.
“In Israel, one third of the engineering faculty members at all universities are at BGU, so we offer a huge body of  researchers engaged in basic and applied research in fields such as advanced materials, nanotech, sensors, electronics, optics, drug delivery and biotechnology,” says Cohen.
“Medical devices incorporate everything from biology to lasers to electronics, so almost every part of the engineering faculty, and also the health faculty, would be involved in this process. We hope to see people from many different angles getting involved.”
He’s hosted a large group from CCH more than once, and BGU staffers have visited Cincinnati as the details of the agreement were worked out. Funding is coming from both institutions, and Cohen says there is room for additional funders to join the process as it continues over the next few years.
“They chose to work with us not only because of our capability, but also because there is willingness on both sides — an understanding that the important thing is to target real needs of babies and their physicians.”