How can we make drug therapy safer for children?

Photograph of Dr. Michael RiederAs the CIHR-GSK Chair in Clinical Paediatric Pharmacology, Dr. Michael Rieder’s clinical lab focuses on drug safety, side effects and optimal therapeutics in children. His research investigating the genetic factors that impact drug response dares to ask: how can we make drug therapy safer for children?

By Max Martin, MMJC’19

It’s both the pursuit of knowledge and the ability to spark meaningful clinical changes that keeps Robarts scientist Dr. Michael Rieder motivated in his paediatric pharmacology research.

“Seeing discoveries come out is nice, but the most invigorating part is working on important questions with the curiosity of other people,” he said.

As the CIHR-GSK Chair in Clinical Paediatric Pharmacology, Dr. Rieder’s research focuses on drug safety, side effects and optimal therapeutics in children. His clinical research lab investigates genetic factors that impact drug response and also studies food safety.

In his drug safety research, Dr. Rieder is examining mechanisms of drug sensitivity and delayed reactions. A main focus has been on severe adverse reactions to common antibiotics in children.

The overall goal of his multi-faceted research is to develop ways to predict which patients are and are not at risk for serious drug side effects, which would be a major advantage for both health care workers and patients. “The idea is a child with cancer has certain genetic markers, so you can choose which therapy to use based on these,” he explained.

His clinical research has led to changes in how drugs are used to sedate children in the emergency department and determined predictive risks for serious drug reactions. He’s also using his research to push for improved public policy, advocating for better national guidelines related to drug therapy and children.

Dr. Rieder grew up in a family of pharmacists, sparking an immediate interest in drug therapy. He was drawn to his current field in an effort to merge his passion for paediatrics and clinical pharmacology together.

“It’s important work,” said Dr. Rieder. “I think as a researcher, you get involved because of intellectual curiosity, but as a clinician, you want to see things have an impactful change.”

Today, Dr. Rieder is the Program Director of the Clinical Investigators Program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and the Director of Paediatric Pharmacology at the Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre.

In the food safety field, his lab developed a novel way to rapidly detect food-borne bacteria like E. Coli, Listeria and Salmonella in food. Dr. Rieder notes that this is particularly important for children, who are at a higher risk of experiencing illness related to infection.

But Dr. Rieder acknowledges that his research is a team effort, with a key role played by the graduate trainees who he actively mentors.

“The goal of a teacher is to make sure their students do better than they do,” he said. “You have to empower them by letting them fly a little bit and see where their interest and curiosity are and what will drive them to go the extra mile.”

The CIHR-GSK Chair is the only endowed paediatric pharmacology chair in Canada. It places Dr. Rieder at the forefront of asking new, difficult research questions in the field, pushing to improve care for children.

“Endowed chairs are a really important part of research moving forward,” he explained. “The CIHR-GSK Chair that was given, and the support from alumni and donors, lets all this work be possible.”

Daring to Ask is a series that profiles Canada Research Chairs and Endowed Research Chairs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. These researchers are advancing knowledge in their respective fields, asking and answering questions that challenge that status quo and seeking to improve patient care. It is essential research made possible by generous donors and the investment of funding agencies.