Meet the Expert: Danny Gonzalez
Dr. Gonzalez shares his journey to becoming a leader in the field of pediatric clinical pharmacology
Story by Kate Slate | Published February 28, 2023
Many of the faculty of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy are known as national or international experts in their field. Our Meet the Expert series introduces you to these extraordinary researchers, teachers, and leaders.
In adulthood, the doses of commonplace medications become inherent to daily life. You can take one Advil tablet within a four-to-six-hour timespan, and if that pain persists, you can take a second. With children below the age of 12, however, the directions become less clear: ask a doctor.
If a child is obese, does that mean a higher dose in tandem with their weight is necessarily effective? If a baby was born prematurely, how might their less-developed physiological processes affect drug-drug interactions? These are the questions Dr. Daniel Gonzalez assesses through the field of pediatric clinical pharmacology at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
“Dr. Gonzalez has established himself as a leader in the field of pediatric clinical pharmacology through the remarkable breadth and depth of his research, which focuses on the development and application of innovative pharmacokinetic modeling and simulation approaches to optimize medication dosing in children,” says Dr. Craig Lee, chair of the Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics at the School.
While the prefixes doctor and professor precede his name now, Danny Gonzalez embarked on a road to pharmaceutical research as a high school student in Miami. Danny worked for a local chain of pharmacies that spanned throughout South Florida, albeit they’re no longer around. In addition to stocking shelves and ensuring products were in order, Danny observed what happened behind the counter from a distance; what it takes to be a pharmacist, that is.
His interest led him to take on a pharmacy technician position his junior year of high school. He worked in inpatient pharmacy at a nearby hospital, solidifying his desire to attend pharmacy school at the University of Florida.
Throughout his time at UF, Danny learned his interests were in research. By the time he completed his PharmD program, he was particularly interested in the field of pharmacokinetics. Exploring the relationship between doses and the resulting concentrations of drug in blood and other tissues throughout the body fascinated Danny, especially in children.
He found a niche in pediatric clinical pharmacology throughout pharmacy school and afterward when he pursued a PhD, also at UF. But more so than a place in academia, Danny found a gap in the literature that demanded more research. He followed his PhD with a postdoctoral fellowship offered through the UNC-Duke Collaborative Clinical Pharmacology T32 Postdoctoral Training Program. There, he worked within the Pediatric Trials Network, assessing the pharmacokinetics, safety, and effectiveness of off-patent drugs that were approved in the past for use in children.
“Off-patent drugs were developed oftentimes many decades ago, but no formal studies were done on kids because it wasn’t required back then,” says Danny. “So now we’re going back and studying them across the pediatric age continuum.”
When a child is hospitalized, they’re given a handful of medications that each interact with one another differently. Rarely, Danny explains, are those interactions studied in children. Rather, there’s an assumption that the studies performed on adults, known as drug-drug interaction studies, merely extend to a younger demographic.
“It really wasn’t until the early 2000s when there was federal legislation passed that really paved the way for an expansion in pediatric drug development,” explains Danny. “When I was finishing up my PhD, it was about 10 years after one of those pieces of legislation was passed and pediatric clinical pharmacology was really starting to blossom as an area of research.”
Parents are no stranger to the dosage charts printed on the bottles of Tylenol or Benadryl they turn to when their children are sick. Commonly, the dosage they’re advised to give is determined by the child’s weight. However, other factors, Danny explains, can play an important role in how efficiently a drug functions in children.
“In children, there are very pronounced developmental changes that impact how the body handles a drug and how quickly the concentrations change as a function of time, especially early in life with neonates and infants,” says Danny. “It’s important to characterize how those developmental trajectories affect drug exposure and effects.”
Furthermore, factors like a child’s food status, organ function, and demographics can also impact a drug’s exposure.
Danny turns to pharmacokinetic research to help answer these questions. In the way our age, body structure and medical conditions dictate our dietary needs, the same holds true for the medications we take. Thanks to researchers like Danny, we are coming to a better understanding of how all these factors interact.
Craig Lee observes, “[Danny’s] impactful work continues to make significant advancements to the safe and effective use of medications in children, and to the training of the next generation of clinical pharmacologists.”