Our Research Mission

The Precision Genomics Program is the only program of its kind in Indiana. The multidisciplinary team includes oncologists, pharmacist, nurse coordinator, genetic counselor, molecular geneticist and an ethics worker. The Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment helps support a portion of this team.

The research funded by the Caroline Symmes Endowment is centered around learning more about pediatric Non-CNS Solid Tumors. This means tumors in children which occur outside the central nervous system (CNS) in places like bone, muscle, and vital organs. According to Dr. Jamie Renbarger, Section Chief of Hematology/Oncology at the Riley Children’s Health, these tumors are often the most aggressive, yet research into how to cure them is almost nonexistent.

“We do a good job of curing around 70% of pediatric cancers, but in around 30% of cases we really exhaust our options with chemo,” Dr. Renbarger explains. “30% sounds like a lot, but really that might only be four or five thousand kids across the US. With so little funding for pediatric cancer research set aside at the federal level to begin with, it’s the sad reality that these diseases are really never researched.” That is, until we began our endowment and teamed up with Riley.

Dr. Renbarger entered the research lab when she saw the pressing need for physician investigators who truly understand the diseases under scrutiny. Her hope for the inquiry funded by the Caroline Symmes Endowment is high.

“The work supported by this foundation is really aligned with game changing science across all cancer research,” she says. “This is really going to change how we care for kids with cancer, and how we classify pediatric cancers.” This gene-focused research will enable physicians to begin categorizing tumors based on what’s causing the cancers, rather than simply where they are located in the body, which is the current common practice. Who knows–that change could spread across the field of medicine, if the funds endure to support the researchers.

Research is the ultimate investment in that sense. With the proper funds allocated to specifically support this kind of research, those scientists may be able to get additional grant funding from the National Institute of Health. With every dollar donated to the Caroline Symmes Endowment, we open the door to a further $10 in government funding. Our ultimate goal is simple: raise $8M in seed funding in order to open the door to the additional government funding and set up Riley researchers to succeed in our pediatric cancer research mission. 18 of the researchers on staff at Riley have received bridge grants from private endowments like ours to fund their research. Of that 18, eight have then received grants from the NIH, bringing in a total of $13M additional support for their programs.

It wasn’t due to a lack of technology that Caroline lost her life; it was due to a lack of funding for pediatric cancer research. The Caroline Symmes Endowment for Pediatric Cancer Research at Riley Children’s Health is the gift she leaves behind, so that every child has a chance at the future they deserve.

Our Plan of Attack

The Pediatric Non-CNS Solid Tumor Program includes two interrelated research strategies:

I. New Cancer Therapies

This work will involve developing new drugs that fight childhood cancers that are resistant to other therapies, and moving them rapidly into the clinic to help children.

II. Individualized Profiling

Our team of researchers will use gene profiling to identify biomarkers that predict which therapies will be most effective for each child.

Dr. Jamie Renbarger and other physician scientists treat Riley Children’s Health oncology patients and conduct pediatric research through the Indiana Institute for Personalized Medicine. Riley Children’s Health is one of the few research hospitals embracing the field of genome-therapy.

Who This Research Helps

The scientists on our team will focus on childhood cancers known as Non-CNS Solid Tumors, which include, but are not limited to:


A malign (cancerous) tumor that develops from nerve tissue.

Parker Adams,

Neuroblastoma patient

Wilms’ Tumor

A rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children under the age of 5.

Sophia Eager,

Wilms’ Tumor patient
Fort Wayne


A cancerous tumor of the muscles that are attached to the bones.

Taylor Magdzinski,

Rhabdomyosarcoma patient
McCordsville, Ind.


The most common type of bone cancer, often affecting teens.

Sam Grewe,

Osteosarcoma patient
Middlebury, Ind.

Ewing Sarcoma

A cancerous tumor that grows in bones or soft tissue near bones.

Kaleb Buck,

Ewing Sarcoma patient
Franklin, Ind.


A cancerous tumor (affecting children up to 5 years old) that grows in the retina.

Olivia Pierce,

Retinoblastoma patient
Hobart, Ind.