Nationwide Children’s Hospital has recruited world-renowned researchers Richard K. Wilson, PhD (left) and Elaine R. Mardis, PhD (right) marking a transformational milestone for its genomics research program. At the same time, the Nationwide Foundation has announced a new $10 million gift to the Nationwide Foundation Pediatric Innovation Fund, which is helping to make the ground-breaking research and this recruitment possible. Dr. Wilson and Dr. Mardis will bring their cutting-edge research team from Washington University to Nationwide Children’s Hospital this fall....Read full release
A Chat with Dr. Elaine Mardis and Dr. Rick Wilson
1. Why have you chosen to focus your research and clinical efforts on pediatrics?
We’ve been fortunate to play a role in the exciting and rapid advance of modern genomics, especially the use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) to enable better understanding and diagnosis of human disease. This has been particularly inspiring for us with regard to the impact on a variety of pediatric conditions, ranging from developmental delay to metabolic deficiencies to cancer. We feel strongly that the application of NGS to diagnoses can add precision to therapeutic decision-making and other diagnostic assays.
2. What factors attracted you to Nationwide Children’s Hospital? Were there factors that were unexpected?
The shared vision with Nationwide Children’s leadership for applying genomics to pediatric medicine was particularly compelling to us. The enthusiasm with which our new colleagues have welcomed us has been especially encouraging. This tells us the desire for including genomics in pediatric medicine is strongly felt across the organization.
3. What are the short- and long-term challenges for the field of genomics?
In the near term, there is a critical need for more basic and functional research to clarify the relationship of specific genomic changes to disease causation. This need will enhance our collaborative interactions with scientists and clinicians in the Nationwide Children’s Research Institute. In the long term, genomics needs to demonstrate its critical role in precision diagnostics and clinical benefit so that insurers reimburse these tests, and health practitioners recognize their importance to precision health.
4. What role does philanthropy play in the world of research?
Philanthropy is absolutely critical to advancing the types of research that directly translate into better patient care. While the NIH funds “basic research”, it rarely funds the work that is needed to make the jump from the lab to the clinic. A great example of this was our early cancer genomics work, wherein we sequenced and analyzed the first human cancer genome using NGS. We did this at a time when grant reviewers labeled our proposal as “too early, too risky”, so we turned to a private donor who agreed to fund the research. That was in 2007 and it is remarkable how rapidly cancer genomics and other medical applications of NGS have developed over the few years since then. So philanthropy is crucial to driving the key steps! Of note, we have rarely seen such interest and support from the community as we’ve experienced in Columbus. Nationwide’s support has been especially remarkable and will be integral to the future of the hospital’s genomics program.
5. What do you think will be the best part about living in Columbus?
Columbus is a vibrant and energetic city, so it will be an exciting place to live and work.
6. You are moving to Buckeye Nation - Are you ready to adopt scarlet and gray as your favorite colors?
Rick: I grew up in Kent, Ohio, and my dad was a high school football coach who used to attend Woody’s coaching workshops, so I was fully indoctrinated as a child. In preparation for my return to Buckeye Nation, I have pulled my vintage Archie Griffin replica jersey out of storage!
Imagine a day where a family no longer has to go through months of testing to find out what ails their child. Imagine a day when doctors can analyze DNA samples to provide accurate diagnoses and treatment personalized to each child, or even use that DNA sample to prevent a disease from ever occurring. That’s the power of genomics.
Through the foundational work of Dr. Peter White
and his team, Nationwide Children’s developed the most advanced technology available for genomic analysis. This technology enables analysis to be completed 70 times faster than other technologies, with 1 percent of the personnel, at a fraction of the cost.
This work will allow doctors to more quickly diagnose patients and more accurately treat diseases affecting children with an ultimate goal of preventing these conditions from ever occurring. What’s more is that Nationwide Children’s Hospital will be able to share the capabilities of this research with doctors across the medical profession to treat patients here and around the world.