Nationwide Foundation Pediatric Innovation Fund

Improving the health of children takes visionary support. Since 2014, the Nationwide Foundation Pediatric Innovation Fund has contributed $60 million to accelerate the most promising treatments and discoveries at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The Nationwide Foundation's most recent donation brings their cumulative support to Nationwide Children's Hospital to $110 million. 

The Innovation Fund has supported several key clinical and research efforts in heart health, neonatology, injury prevention and most notably genomics. New focus areas for genomic research and clinical testing include epilepsy and other seizure disordersbehavioral health disorders and infectious disease.

Avery’s Story: A Tiny Pioneer Is Among the First Children to Receive a Tissue Engineered Vascular Graft

Avery Now and Then
Left: Avery age 3. Right: Avery age 7.

Avery was born with “half a heart.” The medical term for this is hypoplastic left heart syndrome – a type of life-threatening congenital heart disease in which the left ventricle is underdeveloped.

Avery has endured a series of complex surgeries to redirect the blood flow through her heart. The first was at just two days old.

At age 3 years, she underwent one of the final major surgeries, called the Fontan procedure

It was during this Fontan procedure that Avery became a medical pioneer, among one of the first children to have the repair done with vessels that were engineered from her own tissue.

This is an important medical milestone because one of the many challenges of repairing this condition is that children continue to grow, but the materials implanted during the surgery do not – leading to even more surgeries. As part of a clinical trial at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Avery received a different type of material – a tissue engineered vascular graft (TEVG) that could grow with her. 

“Tissue engineered vascular grafts are potentially better than other options for pediatric congenital heart patients for several reasons, the most important of which is the graft’s growth capacity,” says Toshiaru Shinoka, MD, PhD, cardiothoracic surgeon and principal investigator in the Center for Regenerative Medicine in the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s. “Our grafts don’t require immunosuppression or anti-rejection medications because they are made up of the patient’s own cells. And they grow with the child, decreasing the number of follow-up surgeries needed with conventional grafts.”

Now, Avery is a bright and bubbly 7-year-old. She loves butterflies and the “Butterfly Hospital.”  

“While we don’t fully know what procedures Avery might need in the future, we are grateful for the hope and support we’ve experienced during her care,” says Avery’s mom. “Nationwide Children’s is like family to us. The care and research there are beacons of hope for our future.”

And while Avery continues to grow and thrive with her TEVG, the researchers in the Center for Regenerative Medicine are using what they’ve learned from the first clinical trial to continue improving TEVGs to come.

“Moving what we’ve learned in the clinical trial back to the laboratory and bringing it back to the patients is the heart of what we do. We’re ever learning, ever refining, always striving to provide better outcomes for our patients," says Christopher Breuer, MD, pediatric surgeon, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Nationwide Endowed Chair in Surgical Research.

"Participating in research means hope. Not just for our family, but for those that follow us,” Avery’s mom adds. “We know that research is essential, and we are fortunate to have such an amazing facility right here in Columbus that has a vision of always searching for a better way to help children.”

To help share Avery's story, her family created a video about her journey. Click here to watch.

"The arrival of Genomics at Nationwide Children's I would hail as the most exciting event that I've yet witnessed in my 40 years as a physician." - Jonathan Finley, MD

The Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine

The Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine (IGM) is one of the first ventures into pediatric personalized genomic medicine at any children’s hospital. It focuses on genomics as the root cause of many childhood diseases.

The human genome is the blueprint for what makes up a human being and can help us determine the cause and best treatment for virtually all medical conditions. Other institutions need 72 hours to sequence and analyze the human genome. At Nationwide Children’s, we have developed technology to do the same in 90 minutes. This breakthrough will change how we treat childhood diseases because for our children, their future is now.

The Innovation Fund has enabled transformational impact by helping make possible the recruitment in 2016 of world-renowned genomics researchers Richard K. Wilson, PhD and Elaine R. Mardis, PhD to lead the Institute for Genomic Medicine in the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children's. Established in 2016, the IGM remains one of the few programs in pediatric personalized genomic medicine in the U.S. and focuses on genomics as the root cause of many childhood diseases. 

Nationwide's Impact

Thanks to the support provided by the Nationwide Foundation Pediatric Innovation Fund, over 250 families have received clinical genomics testing, providing diagnostic answers in several cases for children with complex and previously undiagnosed conditions. In addition, over 50 children with cancer have been evaluated by genome sequencing to identify tumor-specific vulnerabilities that represent potentially new treatment directions. In the coming year, again thanks to this support, IGM will be able to offer these tests – and hope – to many more patients and their families. IGM has already grown to 120 employees working in clinical testing, technology development/validation and research projects, and we continue to identify and recruit outstanding staff.