Pediatric medical research is poised to take a giant step forward as new federal legislation establishes the framework for a network of research sites across the United States studying a variety of rare pediatric diseases.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama, along with other leading children’s hospitals in the United States, formed the Coalition for Pediatric Medical Research more than eight years ago to lobby Congress for the creation of this multi-institutional network. The Alabama congressional delegation has been very supportive of the effort, and UAB and Children’s will continue working jointly to become a primary site in the new network.
“This is a unique opportunity for UAB and Children’s to continue our combined efforts to improve pediatric care through pediatric medical research initiatives,” said Mike Warren, president and CEO of Children’s of Alabama. “Children’s led Alabama’s efforts in a coordinated national legislative effort with other children’s hospitals, and UAB Professor of Pediatrics David Kimberlin, M.D., will represent Alabama on the implementation workgroup to coordinate with the National Institutes of Health.”
Kimberlin, who is also president of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, says working to establish this new network has been a gratifying experience.
“Since we started in about 2005, we have seen the worst economic downturn in 75 years, contractions of research budgets and significant changes to the overall health care system in the United States,” Kimberlin said. “So to get this passed in 2013, in a time of sequester, speaks loudly to the shared commitment that we have as research institutions and pediatric hospitals. “Also I think it shows that Congress and the executive branch are working toward the common goal of making our country better for its children, who are the future for all of us.”
Kimberlin explained that funding for pediatric research has been disproportionately underrepresented historically. This age group has received only about 7 percent of research funding, despite making up 26 percent of the American population.
Pediatric research has been very successful through the years, due in large part to the collaborative nature of pediatric researchers. Kimberlin notes that increasing pediatric cancer survival rates up to 90 percent — while adults’ cancer survival rate is significantly lower — is just one major example of this.
“Pediatric researchers work very well together, so this new network’s formal infrastructure will be established on top of that fertile ground both here in Alabama and across the country,” Kimberlin said. “We will be able to move things very rapidly relative to how we’d be able to accomplish pediatric medical advances if we did not have this network in place.”
The implementation workgroup that Kimberlin is serving on will seek to coordinate efforts with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to plan for application of the pediatric research network across the country in 2014.