Riley Children’s Foundation sets up nutrition research partnership with $2.5M gift from Lilly CEO’s foundation

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Eli Lilly and Co. CEO David Ricks

The Riley Children’s Foundation is setting up a new research collaboration between Purdue and Indiana universities to study childhood nutrition and diseases—and it’s funded by one on the biggest names in Indianapolis’ business community.

The partnership, announced Wednesday, comes as the rate of obesity continues to climb in the U.S., affecting the health of nearly 15 million American children and adolescents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The collaboration is being funded with a $2.5 million gift from the Ricks Family Foundation, a not-for-profit run by David Ricks, CEO and chairman of drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., and his wife, Dr. Christina Ricks, a pediatrician at Eskenazi Health.

“This topic is something we’re super-passionate about, and we think matters a lot for children’s health, because they have a lifetime to benefit from improved health,” David Ricks told IBJ. “And often, children’s health research and children’s health needs are underfunded and poorly looked after.”

The joint research initiative, called Heartland Children’s Nutrition Collaborative, will combine the Purdue’s College of Agriculture Department of Food Science and the IU School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics to discover how early-life nutrition can shape and influence children’s health.

“The idea is to shine a light on the role of nutrition in children’s health,” Dr. Christina Ricks said in written remarks. “Optimal nutrition is needed for growth and development, as well as long term overall health and wellbeing. Nutrition certainly impacts many conditions, from anxiety and depression to chronic diseases. This is such an exciting area of investigation that extends from the bench research of the microbiome to the social science of behavior change.”

Purdue and IU are each investing $1.25 million in the collaborative to support recruitment of faculty with expertise related to children’s nutrition.

In addition, the Ricks Family Foundation says it will match up to an additional $2.5 million in donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. Should the Ricks’ foundation match be fully maximized, the program will have a total startup package of $10 million.

The funds will help hire researchers, buy research equipment they need, and make grants to scientists who are interested in this field to help grow the base of research here at Riley with IU and Purdue in nutrition, David Ricks said.

Investigators who generate early results will then seek ongoing funding from external sources such as the National Institutes of Health to fuel future research.

“In the end, our dream here would be to have a lot of other people contribute, and really grow a National Center of Excellence and children’s nutrition, here at Riley,” Ricks said.

Ricks served on the Riley Children’s Foundation Board of Governors from 2012 through 2022, including five years as chair. Dr. and Mr. Ricks are each graduates of both Purdue and IU.

The donation is the largest ever by the Indianapolis-based Ricks Family Foundation, set up in 2017. Other large donations in recent  years include $125,000 to Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School and $50,000 to Purdue University.

The collaborative is designed to research such questions as how bacteria in a child’s gut contributes to illness, how to prevent childhood diseases by altering what kids eat, and how do certain foods interact with children’s cells to damage, alter or strengthen them. 

The Heartland Children’s Nutrition Collaborative will be co-led by Senay Simsek, head of Purdue’s College of Agriculture Department of Food Science, and Carmella Evans-Molina, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Indiana Diabetes Research Center at IU School of Medicine.

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3 thoughts on “Riley Children’s Foundation sets up nutrition research partnership with $2.5M gift from Lilly CEO’s foundation

  1. Would be awesome if Riley would pay their nurses and support staff better wages. They are 100% understaffed and many are leaving for other local healthcare providers due to poor working conditions and low pay. Plenty of money to donate to IU and top managment, but not support staff. Totally ridiculous.

    1. Riley Children’s Foundation is an independent organization from Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. The latter is who decides upon compensation of nurses and other health professionals who work at Riley Hospital.

      As an employee of neither, and a Indy parent of a child with a chronic illness, I am so glad to see this underfunded area of research receive support! And, I wholeheartedly agree with you that employee compensation is important. The two must each move forward.

  2. “The idea is to shine a light on the role of nutrition in children’s health,” Dr. Christina Ricks said in written remarks. “Optimal nutrition is needed for growth and development, as well as long term overall health and wellbeing. Nutrition certainly impacts many conditions, from anxiety and depression to chronic diseases. This is such an exciting area of investigation that extends from the bench research of the microbiome to the social science of behavior change.”
    Really….u are kidding me right. So money is donated and it is to research something we already know…and high light it. Lilly needs to think through these things instead of making themselves feel better about what they are doing. That model and motivation is exactly what has gotten us, or not solved the problems giving rise to the issue. We don’t need to know another damn thing about the impact of poor nutrition. And we certainty don’t need to “highlight it”. All we will get is another study that says everything, concludes everything about the REASONS for poor nutrition except the real reason. I have seen it over and over and over again. It’s one of the curses of having lived as long as i have. We all dance around it, pretend it is not there, spend inordinate amount of money not saying it…in every facet of life…business, education, health care it doesn’t stop. I still remember the study in which they concluded a strong correlation, almost direct correlation, between lung cancer and coffee consumption. Not cigarette smoking, coffee consumption. The thought of determining how many cigarette smokers also consume coffee never occurred to them. And we are about to get another “highlighted” program or study. Come on Lilly, have some guts, all you are doing is funding your feelings and some unemployed scientist. You are doing nothing to move the needle. Sleep well.

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