$3M Award to Boost IDD Research at KU

December 5, 2022

A teacher at Juniper Gardens Children's Project, part of the Life Span Institute, works with a preschool student.
A teacher at Juniper Gardens Children's Project, part of the Life Span Institute, works with a preschool student.

AUCD's network of Intellectual and Developmental Disability Research Centers (IDDRCs) consists of 16 Centers. Fifteen Centers currently receive funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). IDDRCs contribute to the development and implementation of evidence-based practices by evaluating the effectiveness of biological, biochemical, and behavioral interventions; developing assistive technologies; and advancing prenatal diagnosis and newborn screening.

The University of Kansas has awarded the KU Life Span Institute a $3 million grant to expand the organization’s capacity, staff, recruitment, and training in intellectual and developmental disability research.

The five-year grant awarded through the university’s Research Rising competition builds on 65 years of research on intellectual and developmental research at the Life Span Institute. Among the first priorities of the project is recruiting two researchers in the areas of omics sciences and biomedical informatics, with more positions opening in the future. 

The new faculty will allow for research in identifying and characterizing biological causes of intellectual and developmental disability and in integrating large sets of biomedical information to study clinical populations. This will help develop multidisciplinary research that can have a significant and direct impact on the lives of individuals, said John Colombo, director of the Life Span Institute and primary investigator for the project. 

"This grant will help improve understanding of the basic mechanisms of intellectual and developmental disabilities, allowing for the development of more targeted and effective therapeutics essential for reaching a larger and more diverse range of affected individuals,” he said. “Team science strategies … are necessary for us to tackle the major questions in our field and cultivate the talent important for carrying us into the future.”

Joining Colombo on the project are Karrie Shogren, director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, and Matthew Mosconi, director of the Kansas Center on Autism Research and Training.

The grant also provides funding that will expand the scope and capacity of KU’s research registries and increase its ability to engage individuals from marginalized communities. Also, the institute will develop a center of multidisciplinary research to promote collaboration among scientists and support promising new interdisciplinary studies by advancing professional development seminars, grant boot camps, and pilot funding.

KU is nationally recognized for its strengths in biobehavioral assessment, education, and intervention research for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and the new hires funded by the Research Rising grant also will allow KU to compete for larger, national-level interdisciplinary research network awards that are a major focus of federal funding agencies, Colombo said.

“It also continues our work ensuring the inclusion, participation, and contribution to society of neurodivergent individuals, which has been federally funded since 1956,” Colombo said.

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