2020 VKC Hobbs Discovery and Director’s Strategic Priorities Grants announced, next call to open May 2020

Hobbs Discovery & Director’s Strategic Priorities Grants

A Nicholas Hobbs Discovery Grant and a Director’s Strategic Priorities Grant have been awarded to Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) investigators for 2020-21. The grants aim to further our understanding of the neurocognitive effects of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and to explore the brain function of comorbid reading comprehension and math problem solving learning disabilities.

“I congratulate the grant awardees and their teams,” said Jeffrey L. Neul, M.D., Ph.D., Vanderbilt Kennedy Center director and Annette Schaffer Eskind Chair. “I am excited by the innovation and by the interdisciplinary nature of the projects. We are especially pleased to support research that embraces a precision care approach and that has the potential to enable rapid translation of basic discoveries into high-impact interventions and treatment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The two grants are awarded annually and are meant to provide seed money to pilot studies in preparation for submitting competitive grant applications to federal agencies or private foundations.

“Additionally, I want to announce that we will shift both grant periods onto a fiscal year cycle,” said Neul. “The next calls for the Hobbs Discovery and Director’s Strategic Priorities grants will be released in early May 2020, with funding beginning July 1, 2020.”

2020-21 Hobbs Discovery Grant

Dr. Kujawa smiling

Autumn Kujawa, Ph.D.

Neurocognitive effects of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome

The opioid epidemic is a major public health concern and has attracted increased attention and research. Yet, most research has been directed towards those with substance use disorders, with very little research designed to understand the effects of prenatal opioid exposure on offspring. Rates of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) have increased dramatically in recent years and prenatal opioid exposure is thought to have profound effects on the developing nervous system and lead to long-term impairments in functioning, potentially including increased rates of educational and developmental disabilities.

Multimethod research is needed to identify the neural and behavioral mechanisms of the association between NOWS and cognitive development and to evaluate the unique variance explained by prenatal opioid exposure over and above associated environmental risks, including exposure to trauma and parental separation.

This pilot project will support a multidisciplinary team of promising early investigators exploring a new and innovative area of research, integrating team expertise in developmental neuroscience, early intervention, stress and parenting, and neonatal opioid exposure.

Investigators will examine whether preschool-aged children with and without NOWS differ in neural and behavioral indicators of cognitive control and evaluate the extent to which associations between NOWS and cognitive control in preschool-aged children persist when accounting for childhood environmental factors, including stress and parenting.

2020-21 Director’s Strategic Priorities Grant

Lynn Fuchs smiling

Lynn Fuchs, Ph.D.

The brain function of comorbid reading comprehension and math problem solving learning disabilities

A transdisciplinary team of researchers, spanning expertise in biomedical engineering, cognitive neuroscience science, language, mathematics development, reading development, and learning disabilities will address a prevalent learning disability subtype that spans math problem solving and reading comprehension.

Math problem solving is the best school-age predictor of later employment and wages and reading comprehension supports learning during and after school. A learning disability in either domain can undermine quality of life and financial security but learning disabilities that span both math problem solving and reading comprehension (comorbid learning disabilities) are associated with poorer response to intervention and poorer academic outcomes in each area. Comorbid learning disabilities thus represents a serious and understudied public health problem.

Investigators posit that math problem solving is a form of reading comprehension, with language comprehension underpinning the connection between them. Thus, learning comprehension may provide direction for understanding comorbidity and offer a coordinated approach for improving both outcomes in a coordinated fashion.

Investigators will zero in on aspects of a learning comprehension intervention common to both reading comprehension and math problem solving intervention conditions to investigate the tenability of imaging paradigms for indexing brain function associated with comorbid learning disabilities. The hope is that results will provide a set of methods that leads to funded research designed to deepen insight on the brain bases of comorbid learning disabilities, which in turn provides the basis for stronger interventions.

Courtney Taylor is director of VKC Communications.

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