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The science of paediatrics, child health research, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
  1. Neena Modi
  1. Correspondence to Professor Neena Modi, Section of Paediatrics, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, 4th Floor, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital campus, 369 Fulham Road, London SW10 9NH, UK; n.modi{at}

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Having completed a five year term as Science & Research Vice President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), I offer a personal reflection. I explain why I believe the science of paediatrics, and child health research in the UK, are vibrant and strong and present my view that with a strengthened RCPCH, and sustained vision by paediatricians, these could become an international beacon, benefiting child and population health globally.

The science of paediatrics and child health research

The word ‘science’ derives from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge. The science of children's health and disease has its origins in antiquity. Cephalhaematoma was described by Hippocrates c400 BC, rickets by Galen c200 AD and neonatal tetanus and umbilical abscess by Ibn Sinha (Avicenna) c990 AD. In 1545, Thomas Phaire, represented on the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) coat of arms, wrote the first English language paediatric textbook, the Boke of Chyldren. The earliest description of a controlled evaluation is an example of child health research; it is said that at the court of Nebuchadnezzar in the 5th century BC, Daniel (of the lion's den), refused the King's diet of meat and wine, and asked that he and his comrades be allowed to subsist on pulses and water. After 10 days, the young people receiving Daniel's diet were visibly healthier than those following the King's diet. Edward Jenner's deliberate inoculation in 1796 of the 8-year-old son of his gardener with smallpox to demonstrate that he was immune as a result of his earlier vaccination with cowpox was an example of formal hypothesis testing, though one that would be considered unethical today.

Paediatrics is a relatively new speciality. The first children's hospital in the Western world was the Hôpital des Enfants Malades in Paris which opened in 1802, followed by the Paediatric Pavilion of …

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  • Competing interests NM was Science and Research Vice-President of the RCPCH 2009–2014, is President of the Neonatal Society, a research society founded in 1959, and Chair of the BMJ Ethics Committee, in the last 5 years. NM has participated in academic meetings supported by Danone, Nestle and Ferring Pharmaceuticals, and held research grants awarded by the National Institute of Health Research, Welcome Trust, Medical Research Council, Acton Medical Research, Child Growth Foundation, Department of Health, Westminster Medical School Research Trust, Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership, HCA International and Bliss; the views expressed are her own.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.