Pediatric Drugs

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 43–53 | Cite as

Ethics of Drug Research in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

  • Niina Kleiber
  • Krista Tromp
  • Miriam G. Mooij
  • Suzanne van de Vathorst
  • Dick Tibboel
  • Saskia N. de WildtEmail author
Review Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Ethics of Pediatric Drug Research


Critical illness and treatment modalities change pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of medications used in critically ill children, in addition to age-related changes in drug disposition and effect. Hence, to ensure effective and safe drug therapy, research in this population is urgently needed. However, conducting research in the vulnerable population of the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) presents with ethical challenges. This article addresses the main ethical issues specific to drug research in these critically ill children and proposes several solutions. The extraordinary environment of the PICU raises specific challenges to the design and conduct of research. The need for proxy consent of parents (or legal guardians) and the stress-inducing physical environment may threaten informed consent. The informed consent process is challenging because emergency research reduces or even eliminates the time to seek consent. Moreover, parental anxiety may impede adequate understanding and generate misconceptions. Alternative forms of consent have been developed taking into account the unpredictable reality of the acute critical care environment. As with any research in children, the burden and risk should be minimized. Recent developments in sample collection and analysis as well as pharmacokinetic analysis should be considered in the design of studies. Despite the difficulties inherent to drug research in critically ill children, methods are available to conduct ethically sound research resulting in relevant and generalizable data. This should motivate the PICU community to commit to drug research to ultimately provide the right drug at the right dose for every individual child.


Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Drug Research Informed Consent Process Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Admission Proxy Consent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research is supported by grants from The Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (113203203, 113202007 and 90700304); however, no financial support was received specifically for the writing of the manuscript.

N. Kleiber, K. Tromp, M. G. Mooij, S. van de Vathorst, D. Tibboel and S. N. de Wildt declare no relevant conflicts of interest.

Ko Hagoort is thanked for editing the manuscript.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niina Kleiber
    • 1
  • Krista Tromp
    • 2
  • Miriam G. Mooij
    • 1
  • Suzanne van de Vathorst
    • 2
  • Dick Tibboel
    • 1
  • Saskia N. de Wildt
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Intensive Care and Department of Pediatric SurgeryErasmus MC–Sophia Children’s HospitalRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of MedicineErasmus MCRotterdamThe Netherlands

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