The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) has been awarded a $6.8 million, five-year grant to continue as a national Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC). The VKC, founded in 1965, is one of the nation’s original research centers dedicated to advancing the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and amelioration of intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (EKS NICHD), the grant will support four scientific cores to support basic and applied research on intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), an administrative core, and an IDDRC research project. VKC director Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D., is the principal investigator (PI). Neul is Annette Schaffer Eskind Chair, and professor of Pediatrics, Pharmacology, and Special Education.
“The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center has a long and distinguished history in research and in the care of children and adults with developmental disabilities,” said Neul. “We are a trans-institutional research center spanning between Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University, bringing together researchers from a wide range of disciplines. Our diverse membership and the ever-evolving intellectual and developmental disabilities scientific landscape have informed new and exciting shifts in our IDDRC scientific cores and services. With this new cycle of funding, we look forward to promoting collaboration with new partners, achieving discovery through cutting-edge mechanisms, and connecting with new audiences.”
The four IDDRC scientific cores and faculty directors and associate directors, respectively, are Clinical Translational Core, Beth Malow, M.D., M.S.; Translational Neuroscience Core, Laurie Cutting, Ph.D., and Sasha Key, Ph.D.; Behavioral Phenotyping Core, Sarika Peters Ph.D., Fiona Harrison, Ph.D., and Mark Wallace, Ph.D.; and Data Science Core, Hakmook Kang, Ph.D., and Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D. The grant also supports Administrative Services, led by Neul, Cutting, Tim Stafford, MMHC, director of Operations, and Courtney Taylor, M.Div., Communications director.
On Aug. 20, the IDDRC will kick-off a new virtual, monthly IDDRC Core Services Seminar Series with an overview from Neul on the new Core structures and services. Cycling through Cores A-E, each seminar will give VKC investigators an opportunity to provide feedback on the usefulness of services. The goal of the series is to ensure the VKC is enabling high-quality, impactful research in all aspects of intellectual and developmental disabilities and is designed to serve investigator needs and facilitate the IDDRC overall goal to improve the lives of people with disabilities and families.
The IDDRC cores currently support 70 research projects led by 47 investigators in the School of Medicine, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, and the College of Arts and Science.
Funding as an IDDRC also requires that the NICHD grant support a significant research project related to one or more of the five NICHD focus themes identified as IDD research needs. With this grant, the VKC will support a project that addresses antipsychotic-induced weight gain in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The project brings together experts in five disciplines and is led by Lea Davis, Ph.D., Sharon Davis, M.S., and Angela Maxwell-Horne, M.D.
The IDDRC grant competition is open to all research universities, and EKS NICHD funds only 14 such centers nationally. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is among the few centers who also have funding as a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and as a site for Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) training. These three program types, all with different federal funding sources, constitute the tri-part national IDD network. The Center’s fourth component is the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD).
For more information about the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, visit vkc.vumc.org.
Courtney Taylor is director of VKC Communications.
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