IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Doctor, Researcher: “My Job is to Play ‘Go Fish.’”

We are IU Health

April 24, 2018

Dr. Bryan Schneider, director of IU Health’s Precision Genomics Program breaks down a complex topic and talks about personalizing treatment for cancer patients.

You’re at a dinner party and someone asks: “What do you do?”

Dr. Bryan Schneider pauses momentarily, collects his thoughts and then offers a response that is inarguably comprehensible: “I look at myself as having three separate jobs. My first job is a researcher trying to make cancer therapy better. Another job is to treat patients who have breast cancer. That means working with a lot of amazing and diverse patients each going through his or her own unique journey.”

Then he talks about his third job as the director of IU Health’s newest service line – the Precision Genomics Program. “I look at this as the interface between cutting edge research and patient care. Here we use cutting edge tools to try to personalize therapy for patients with cancer.”

Still listening? There’s more.

“Specifically, we exploit the genome – a three billion letter blueprint that every person has living in their body. What happens is we develop typographical errors and if the spell checker doesn’t fix the typo, then that cell can no longer read the blueprint. The cell without the proper blueprint can’t follow directions; this is cancer. If we can find specific typographical errors we can find the gas pedal that drives that tumor. My job is to play ‘go fish’ – to match the specific typo with the specific medicine. In essence, we are treating at the most personalized level possible,” said Dr. Schneider, who added he is grateful to IU Health Simon Cancer Center, the Vera Bradley Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation who have supported his work.

Rather than use a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis and treatment, researchers use full or partial gene sequencing to determine the best and most individualized treatment option for patients with advanced-stage cancers. By analyzing a patient’s genetic makeup doctors can determine specific responses to mutations in the tumor.

Dr. Schneider, a graduate of the University of Evansville and IU School of Medicine, founded the Precision Genomics Program in 2014. To date, the program has treated nearly 2,000 patients.

A native of Jasper, Ind. Dr. Schneider’s earliest introduction to cancer was at about the age of 10 when his Grandma Leona Schneider died of the disease.

“I was angry and I wanted to do something about it,” he said. He spent a lot of his childhood playing with chemistry sets and reading medical books and remembers one experiment where he replaced gum balls for cotton balls, added some fake blood and converted a gum ball machine into a miniature neurosurgery center.

As he entered medical school, Dr. Schneider said cancer was not foremost on his mind of specialties.

“I actually feared cancer and when we had lectures it made me viscerally nauseated. It wasn’t until I was in my third year of medical school and I would run into patients on the wards and was able to ask them questions that I began to feel comfortable. It was because of my personal experience – the way they responded that made me understand.”

As he began to dig deeper into cancer research, Dr. Schneider said he began to realize something important about his original fears. “Exploring each patient’s journey was more rewarding than frightening. As I saw my patients become more comfortable, I became more comfortable. At the end of the day everyone fears cancer but some are more equipped to deal with those fears than others.”

More about Dr. Schneider:

  • He was the first generation in his family to go to college. He has a younger sister, Angie Schneider who is a pharmacist for IU Health. His dad was a businessman and his parents taught him the importance of hard work. “They focused on helping us become well-rounded. We were heavy into sports and they felt athletics provided a lot of worldly lessons.” He maintains an active workout routine in his home and says it’s one of the best stress relievers.
  • He has been married to his wife, Kim Schneider for 18 years. She is a pediatric hospitalist at Riley Hospital for Children. They have two children Cole, 8 and Luke, 3 months.

-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

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