Children's Hospital Colorado

For Kids with Interstitial and Diffuse Lung Disease, a Brighter Tomorrow

A young girl in a yellow and white striped shirt plays in a jungle gym.

“We’ve made substantial progress treating these diseases. And I like to think we’ve made a difference in these kids’ and their families' lives, even if we haven’t found a cure — yet.”
— Dr. Robin Deterding

Twenty years ago, if you had some banking to do, you had to visit an actual bank. Times have changed — a fact not lost on Robin Deterding, MD, Chief of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine and Medical Director of the Center for Innovation at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“Think of the impact big data and tech have had on the consumer experience in all these industries,” she says. “In healthcare, we’re still doing the same old things.”

Breaking out of the health care Stone Age

The same old things are particularly problematic for Dr. Deterding’s patients with chronic, interstitial, and diffuse lung disease. Lung function is difficult to assess in children, especially young ones, and even more difficult to reliably track. Problems can get worse quickly, with serious consequences.

“For someone to come see me every month, every three months, and I’m going to take a one-time vital sign and ask ‘How are you?’” says Dr. Deterding. “That’s like Stone Age.”

A wearable tracker for lung disease

Here, Dr. Deterding is working with a team of scientists and engineers at Children’s Colorado’s Center for Innovation to change that, via devices somewhat like very advanced, medical-grade fitness trackers. Soon, Dr. Deterding says, these wearable technologies will not only collect vital data for medical professionals, but also shape it into interfaces parents can use to monitor their child’s lung health at home — potentially helping catch problems before they become emergencies.

From a research perspective, digital monitoring could also allow for a depth of clinical study never before possible. Currently, 80 percent of drugs used to treat children are used off-label, relying on adult studies. Wearable technologies may, one day, play a role in developing new therapeutics, even cures.

That’s Dr. Deterding’s goal. “I’d like to be able to say that we’ve cured one kid before the end of my career.”

Meet Dr. Robin Deterding