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Lifesaving research provides “precision medicine at its best”

Meaningful outcomes for 95 percent of child patients since 2018

When Carter Daggett starts fourth grade this year, his biggest concerns will be multiplication tables, book reports and having fun with his friends at recess.  

What he won’t have to worry about are trips to the hospital for additional surgeries, or radiation treatment to fight a rare brain cancer that nearly cut short his life when he was just a toddler. 

Thanks to advanced genomic research and treatment available at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, the 9-year-old is now entering his fourth year of cancer-free living. It’s seemingly a miracle given the rare and aggressive form of brain cancer he faced.  

“I am forever grateful for the care we have received, and Carter is thriving today,” said Liz Daggett, Carter’s mother. “I am hopeful that with additional research in 10, 20, 30 years we can live in a cancer-free world, and no one has to go through what Carter went through.” 

The promise genomic medicine holds for children like Carter led, in part, to a significant gift to the hospital this year. The Nationwide Foundation announced a gift of $10 million to the Pediatric Innovation Fund. Nationwide Children’s Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine (IGM) has been a part of each year’s gift from the Nationwide Foundation since the institute’s inception in 2016.   

“Genomic medicine has the potential to transform the lives of children with critical illnesses and offers hope for improved diagnostic and clinical strategies,” said Tim Robinson, chief executive officer, Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “The tremendous support, generosity, and partnership from Nationwide and the Nationwide Foundation plays a critical role in advancing the field and our ability to provide the best options possible to our children and families.” 

Microscopic size, enormous impact 
The human genome, or gene sequence, is a person’s DNA. Essentially an instruction manual for the body, genes are microscopic in size, yet their impact cannot be overstated.  

A person’s genome contains an estimated 30,000 genes and is present in every cell of the body. The genome determines how each cell operates, whether it combines with others to form the heart or becomes bone or cartilage. Genome instructions also determine traits like eye color, hair color and height. But just like a typo can make instructions unclear, a gene mutation can create confusion in a cell, leading to serious illness.  

When Carter was just a year old, physicians discovered he had a rare, cancerous brain tumor. They treated it with surgery and proton radiation therapy, but a few years later another tumor emerged. His physicians wanted to learn why, so they turned to IGM.  

Recognizing the potential for genomic medicine, Nationwide Children’s established its institute to expand the availability of clinical genetic and genomic testing. Genomic medicine has been found to help diagnose conditions earlier, better predict patient outcomes and personalize treatment. Since 2018, the institute has studied more than 400 patients with cancer and achieved a medically meaningful result that influences the patient’s diagnosis, treatment or decisions for 95%. 

After mapping Carter’s entire genome, researchers discovered a gene mutation that caused his body to create a meningeal sarcoma, an especially rare and aggressive cancer. It was just the breakthrough needed – knowing the exact mutation helped Carter’s care team arrive at the best effective treatment for him. 

Discoveries impact patients around the world 
The potential for genomic and other advanced research that takes place at the hospital is why the Nationwide Foundation established the Pediatric Innovation Fund, said Nationwide CEO and Nationwide Foundation Chairman Kirt Walker.

“Creating the Pediatric Innovation Fund has allowed us to make meaningful contributions in the lives of children and their families in our community and beyond,” Walker said. “The research discoveries and innovations happening at Nationwide Children’s are shared with pediatric hospitals across the country and around the world to help children everywhere, and we are grateful for the opportunity to play a small role in such a worthy cause.” 

Since 2014, the Pediatric Innovation Fund has supported the hospital’s research efforts with annual gifts of $10 million that fund research in genomics, heart health, neonatology, injury prevention, behavioral health and others. Combined with a transformational $50 million contribution in 2006, the foundation’s total giving to the hospital is $140 million.  

Read more about the genomics program and more inspiring patient impact stories.