The Pediatric Device Squad

Sometimes, kids need intensive medical treatment, but the cutting-edge technology available to adults simply doesn’t exist for them.

Pediatric medical devices represent such a small market that many companies find them unprofitable to develop. Doctors are left to adapt adult devices to fit young patients, but the resulting improvisations usually are far from ideal.

That’s where UCSF’s Pediatric Device Consortium comes in. Funded by the US Food and Drug Administration, the consortium focuses on accelerating the development of medical devices designed specifically for children.

Artificial kidneys, magnets that correct skeletal deformities, and virtual-reality therapy for pain management are among the technologies being developed at UCSF to advance children’s health.

In fall 2017, more than 50 applicants joined this effort, submitting ideas for new devices to treat or diagnose pediatric conditions ranging from cleft palate to scoliosis. The top eight teams pitched their concepts to an exclusive panel of academicians, industry experts, and venture capitalists at the inaugural UCSF Pediatric Device Accelerator on November 14.

Seed funding of $250,000, along with in-kind product development assistance, was allocated to promising inventors to advance their ideas to market – and the patients who need them.

One winner was the team led by UCSF medical student Adam Rao, who has a big goal: to reduce mortality rates for pneumonia, the number-one killer of children worldwide. The way he’s planning to do it is small – the size of an apple, to be exact.

His device, Tabla, is designed to be held up to a child’s chest to detect probable pneumonia using sound waves. Tabla will cost less than $400, and its technology can be uploaded to any smartphone. His team will use its award to fund a pilot study on children in India.

It would have been easier to develop Tabla for adults, Rao says. But his passion aligns with the consortium’s mission.

“Too often we focus on the population we have access to when we should focus on the population that needs help the most,” Rao says.

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