A marketplace for ideas
Even the best ideas need a sanity check: Has it been done before? Is there a market?
For potential inventors at Children's Hospital Boston, that's where the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) comes in. The 16 members of the IPO serve as a sounding board for Children's clinical and research staff, evaluating their ideas, determining if they're feasible and finding companies that might be interested in making them available to the public.
From new medications to new surgical techniques, the IPO makes it their business to bring together the right people and resources to improve the field of medicine—at Children's and around the world. Here's a look at a few of the latest endeavors by the IPO and its business unit, the Pediatric Product Development Initiative.
When scientists conduct studies, they often develop specialized tools to aid their work: a new antibody, an easy way to manipulate a gene, an animal with a particular set of characteristics. In short, they're adding biomedical tools to the research arsenal.
So why not make these tools available to other scientists so they wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel? Enter Children's IPO.
In 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published guidelines stating that biomedical research tools developed using federal funds must be shared with other researchers and interested companies. For example, any scientist can use polyclonal, an antibody developed in the lab of Michael Greenberg, PhD, head of Children's Neuroscience Research Program, in their own work.
But Children's IPO is taking the NIH guidelines one step further with the launch of the new Catalog of Research Tools and Discovery Products—an online catalog for biomedical research tools developed at the hospital. "The site includes a listing of tools that are already commercially available," says Peter Hodges, PhD, associate licensing manager for the IPO. "We're hoping to call further attention to the companies that are licensing our research tools, letting scientists know what's out there, who at Children's created it and where they can get it."
The site will also include a list of tools available to be licensed. "By capturing all of the new and exciting research tools coming out of Children's in one place," says Hodges, "we're hoping to further entice commercial distributors to pursue new licensing opportunities with us. But it's not just about facilitating product development. As an academic institution, Children's also hopes to help accelerate scientific discovery."
The catalog can be accessed through the IPO's home page (www.childrenshospital.org/ipo) by clicking on "Catalog of Research Tools and Discovery Products."
The still-developing brains of many premature infants can't coordinate the suck-swallow-breathe sequence needed to ingest milk or formula, increasing the chances a baby will inhale liquid into her lungs. This presents a problem when using a standard bottle, since the amount of milk released is controlled by the size of the hole in the nipple's tip and by gravity—without taking into account how much the baby can safely ingest.
But Children's Hospital Boston psychologist Eugene Goldfield, PhD, is hoping to change all that. His invention, the Active Milk Bottle, regulates milk flow based on a baby's ability to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing. Composed of two parts—one disposable (the nipple, sensors and milk container) and one reusable (the electronics that control milk flow)—the bottle takes its cues from computer software developed by Goldfield. Sensors embedded in the nipple and one placed below the baby's nose send information on her sucking and breathing to a computer, which calculates their degree of coordination. Each fraction of a second, the computer lets a milk control system know when the baby is ready for more.
Working with engineers from InfoSciTex, Goldfield has created a fully-functional prototype of the bottle. He hopes to begin conducting clinical research at Children's and Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center early this summer.
With child and adolescent obesity rates spiraling, tracking weight patterns from an early age helps clinicians intervene in time to make an impact on a child's health. Today, clinicians routinely measure a child's Body Mass Index (BMI)—relative body fat based on height and weight—beginning at age 2. As children grow and develop, the measurement is plotted on a standard chart—one for boys and one for girls—based on age. A plan of action is then established, based on the percentile a child falls under: underweight, normal, at risk, or overweight
But sometimes it doesn't stop there. What if a child weighs too much or too little for a given percentile? Some clinicians are now using a statistical measure known as a Z score to calculate a child's distance from that percentile, which helps estimate their relative risk of becoming overweight.
Currently, all of these risk indicators—BMI, percentile based on age/gender and Z score—are calculated using separate tools or formulas. But Kendrin Sonneville, MS, RD, LDN, a dietitian in Children's Hospital Boston's Clinical Nutrition Service, has developed a tool to simplify the diagnostic process. Using a child's BMI score, Sonneville's new BMI wheel lets clinicians select a given age and gender and determine the Z score based on the child's BMI—all at once. Working with an engineering firm to develop two prototypes—one for ages 2 to 6 and one for ages 6 to 20—Sonneville's product is now ready to be manufactured.
The Active Bottle and BMI Wheel were fostered by the IPO's Pediatric Product Development Initiative (PPDI). For more information on these and other PPDI efforts, visit www.childrenshospital.org/ppdi.