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Innovating for kids’ health: More from first day of Stanford’s Childx

Childx table"We are at the precipice of massive change in health care."

That was the message from pediatrician Alan Greene, MD, speaking during a Thursday afternoon session on accelerating innovation in child and maternal health at Stanford's inaugural Childx conference. (The conference continues today and will be live tweeted from @StanfordMed.)

Greene, a practicing pediatrician who in 1995 launched one of the very first websites to provide patients with health information, knows a thing or two about innovating in health care. "Patients are the biggest underused resource in medicine, and moms and their kids are the biggest underused resource in pediatrics," he said, noting that the idea for his website came from the parents of his patients.

The kind of innovation he anticipates in medicine is happening elsewhere in society first, Greene said. Car service Uber and accommodation website Airbnb have rapidly become global leaders not because they own fleets of cars or chains of hotels but because "they have used people, existing resources, data and software to create this magic that just sprung out of nowhere, seemingly," he said. Now, we're on the verge of parallel changes in crowd-sourced medicine, for instance with patients now able to contribute their data to research through the quantified-self movement and with user-oriented collaborative medicine, which will allow patients not just to participate in research but also to help shape the research questions.

After Greene's presentation, three Stanford scientists spoke about their approaches to innovation. Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, described Stanford's SPARK program, now in its ninth year, that she launched to help scientists take their medical innovations past the "valley of death" - the gap between research and clinical use that kills many good ideas before they help patients. To date, the program has moved an impressive 57 percent of its projects to companies for clinical trials or pre-clinical trial work, or to clinical trials that are being conducted at Stanford itself.

Craig Garner, PhD, and Shreyas Vasanawala, MD, PhD, spoke about their success in innovating in two very different areas of pediatric medicine: Garner is developing drug treatments that improve cognition in children with Down syndrome, while Vasanawala is figuring out how to make MRI exams faster and more effective for children. Garner spoke about how scientific findings can unlock thinking about difficult problems, while Vasanawala gave practical tips about innovating, which included starting in the clinic, with a focus on patients' problems; bringing together scientists from different disciplines - and then staying out of their way while they pursue solutions; and finding synergy between pediatric and adult medicine. "While kids don't like lying in a loud tunnel for an hour [for an MRI exam], adults don't like it either," he quipped.

The session closed with Dana Cho, a partner at the global design firm IDEO, describing how to overcome barriers to having innovations take root. People may perceive innovations as scary, difficult to understand, hard to adopt, not worth the money, for "other people," or as things that would make their jobs or lives harder, or are incompatible with their values, she said. But "these are human issues and I believe you can design for them."

IDEO's work focuses on the end-user from the start, Cho said, giving the example of a project with the American Refugee Committee that was intended to reduce child mortality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Working with communities there, IDEO found that they didn't want a purely aid-related effort that would come and go; they wanted an economically viable resource they could maintain themselves. The project eventually produced an agricultural and health center that also provides the community with a place to get clean water, and that can be sustained by the community itself.

Previously: “What we’re really talking about is changing the arc of children’s lives:” Stanford’s Childx kicks off, Join us for two days of live tweeting from Childx, Countdown to Childx: Global health expert Gary Darmstadt on improving newborn survival, Countdown to Childx: Q&A with pediatric health expert Alan Guttmacher and Countdown to Childx: Stanford expert highlights future of stem cell and gene therapies
Photo by Saul Bromberger

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