Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center

The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) at Children’s National Health System conducts multidisciplinary, translational, clinical and community research in intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Our goals are to develop a better understanding of the causes underlying these conditions, develop innovative therapies, and prevent or ameliorate them, thereby permitting each child to achieve his full physical and intellectual potential.

Funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and directed by principal investigator Vittorio Gallo, PhD, the IDDRC at Children’s National focuses on the genetic, cellular, developmental and psychological causes of intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

Objectives

Children’s IDDRC is focused on multidisciplinary molecular, cellular and functional studies on brain development and pathology. These studies are continuously integrated with the analysis of the molecular basis of genetic diseases causing intellectual and developmental disabilities and their behavioral manifestations. The specific objectives of the IDDRC are to:

  1. Identify the causes of intellectual and developmental disabilities and develop new approaches to prevent and ameliorate them by directly translating research results into clinical applications
  2. Provide accessible, state-of-the-art and cost-effective core facilities for cohesive multidisciplinary research and training in intellectual and developmental disabilities
  3. Enhance technology and novel experimental approaches in core facilities that specifically support intellectual and developmental disabilities research
  4. Promote collaboration and synergistic interactions among major research and clinical disciplines at Children’s and participating institutions to develop innovative approaches to the investigation of intellectual and developmental disabilities
  5. Attract new trainees and investigators to intellectual and developmental disabilities research, provide a stimulating intellectual environment for scientists from a variety of disciplines
  6. Consolidate and coordinate all intellectual and developmental disabilities research and training activities into a unified effort at all participating institutions

Overview

Intellectual and developmental disabilities encompass a broad range of childhood disorders that lead to deficits in cognitive, motor and/or behavioral function. As a group, these disorders affect approximately 15 percent of children, yet we know little of their neurological, neurobehavioral or genetic underpinnings.

New molecular, biological, genetic, and neurobehavioral/neuroimaging approaches to the fundamental questions of ontogenesis of the nervous system have recently improved our understanding of the origin and pathophysiology of a number of neurodevelopmental disorders. Human and animal genome decoding has opened up new opportunities for studying these disorders in combination with cellular and functional approaches.

Technologies have emerged to assay all functionally significant polymorphisms in an individual with a single test. Proteomic profiling approaches have begun to parallel the sensitivity of mRNA profiling, and advanced electrophysiological and imaging techniques allow the functional analysis of distinct genetic phenotypes.

Taken together, these approaches demonstrate a clear link between dysregulation of basic brain development and neurodevelopmental disorders, and provide clear evidence of the need for a multidisciplinary approach to intellectual and developmental disabilities research. This involves highly-specialized, integrated teams of developmental neuroscientists, geneticists, child neurologists, developmental pediatricians, pediatricians, child psychologists, and neuropsychologists. These teams work together to elucidate the physiological basis of brain malformations in children and the cellular/molecular mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Children’s IDDRC program reflects this approach, as it includes investigators who synergize to establish multidisciplinary research programs involving distinct, but complementary experimental approaches focused on different areas of intellectual and developmental disabilities research.

The IDDRC program at Children's has provided a platform for continuous and exponential growth of three major research areas, including neuroscience, genetics, and behavioral sciences. This has resulted in a four-fold increase in the total number of IDDRC investigators (currently more than 90) from the establishment of this program to present.

Children’s IDDRC provides access to state-of-the-art and cost effective core research expertise, services and equipment in all areas of intellectual and developmental disabilities research. The broad range of new technologies offered through our five core services provides us with the unique ability to make advanced experimental approaches available to our investigators. Molecular genetic/proteomic, cellular imaging, neuroimaging, and neuropsychological/behavioral techniques are expensive and often inaccessible to individually-funded investigators. These methods require a comprehensive knowledge of up-and-coming scientific advances as well as complex and time-consuming training.

IDDRC Core Services

The IDDRC supports eight areas of multidisciplinary and translational intellectual and developmental disabilities research through its five scientific cores, which are used by more than 90 NIH-funded investigators. These scientists, at Children’s, George Washington University, Georgetown University, and Howard University investigate how the healthy brain develops and acquires mature functions, as well as disorders that limit growth and cause damage to the brain.

IDDRC Core Services

Vittorio Gallo, PhDVittorio Gallo, PhD, Director and Principal Investigator
202-476-4996
vgallo@cnmcresearch.org (link sends e-mail)
  
Scientific CoresCore Directors
Biostatistics and informaticsRobert J. McCarter, ScD
Cellular imaging and analysisJyoti Jaiswal, PhD
Genomics and proteomicsEric P. Hoffman, PhD
NeuroimagingWilliam D. Gaillard, MD
Neurobehavioral evaluationGerard A. Gioia, PhD
  
Research areas 

Training

All IDDRC academic activities at Children’s contribute to the training of the next generation of IDDR investigators. These include:

IDDRC Seminar Series

Children’s hosts a monthly seminar series at 12 p.m. the 4th Thursday of each month focused on intellectual and developmental disabilities research. Speakers include investigators from other IDDRCs, as well as from other US academic institutions. The interdisciplinary nature of our IDDRC is reflected by the speakers and audience attending these seminars, which includes basic, translational and clinical researchers.

T32 IDDR Training Program

Children’s has offered the T32 post-doctoral intellectual and developmental disabilities research training program since 2005. The program focuses on five areas of inquiry associated with intellectual and developmental disabilities including autism, learning disabilities (developmental dyslexia), traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, and urea cycle disorders. The program draws on 15 faculty preceptors in the areas of neuroscience, neurobehavioral science and genetics from seven departments at Children’s, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Georgetown University Medical School.

Children’s is particularly well positioned to lead the T32 training program, based on its:

  • Strengths in basic, translational and clinical research and mentorship in all the proposed areas of inquiry
  • Well-established collaborations with Georgetown University
  • Leading role in a number of National Institutes of Health grants focusing on conditions causing intellectual and developmental disabilities

Two postdoctoral fellows, an MD and a PhD, are recruited to participate in the training program each year. The program aims to encourage MDs to develop as researchers in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities and to stimulate greater participation of promising PhD researchers in this area. Each trainee chooses a mentor’s laboratory focusing on one of these areas, but rotates through all components to acquire interdisciplinary training in the specific disorder being studied. Trainees are carefully mentored through the program to ensure that they fully exploit the range of opportunities of the program.

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program at Children’s prepares career-focused future leaders in the field of neurodevelopmental and related disabilities to address health and social needs. It aims to design, implement, evaluate, refine and disseminate innovative service, teaching and research activities for the care of children with neurodevelopmental and related disabilities (CND) and children with special health care needs (CSHCN), especially those of underrepresented, underserved populations.

Driven by best evidence-based practices, the LEND program achieves its purpose through state-of-the-art blended learning techniques, professional interdisciplinary and inter-institutional supervision, and regional technical assistance in the form of direct population engagement. In addition, Children’s enables “scholar-practitioner” trainees and fellows to design and conduct clinical, community, and translational research activities leading to the education and mentorships of others. All of this is accomplished in a professional environment that ensures both attention to and development of adult learner objectives that lead to career success.

Children’s LEND program serves as a “hub” of interdisciplinary activity on behalf of CND, CSHCN and their families within a consortium of Washington DC regional institutions including:

  • Children’s National Health System: A major academic children's medical institution
  • Two schools of medicine: The George Washington School of Medicine & Health Sciences and Georgetown University School of Medicine
  • Two universities specifically dedicated to the service of minorities: Howard University and Gallaudet University
  • Two specialized elementary schools: Bright Beginnings, Inc. and the Ivymount School, each serving important minority and special needs children
  • A unified city-wide task force of stakeholders dedicated specifically to ensuring success in combating autism in this region

The DC region is unique, diverse and the seat of many national organizations serving the special needs community. For this reason, the LEND program at Children’s has the capacity to serve children with CND, CSHCN and their families while also having a significant impact on the community through training, capacity building, technical assistance, and providing services. We believe it should serve as the nation’s model for an academic and community dedicated regional program.

Laboratory Based Research for Graduate Students

Graduate students from the following affiliated institutions can access IDDRC core facilities and resources:

  • George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Georgetown University Medical School
  • University of Maryland Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Program (NACS)

Postdoctoral Trainees and Clinical Fellows

All postdoctoral trainees and clinical fellows from Children’s, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Georgetown University Medical School who are working with IDDRC investigators can access IDDRC core facilities and resources.

New Program Development with Children's Academic Partners

Synergy with our academic partners, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Georgetown University (GWU) Medical School enables new program development. The IDDRC promotes strong collaborations among investigators and development of new grants and initiatives. For example, the recent establishment of the Autism Institute and the Institute for Neuroscience at GWU has promoted a number of intellectual and developmental disabilities research collaborations between the institutions.

Administrative

Steering Committee 
  • Mark L. Batshaw, MD, Chief Academic Officer, Emeritus Director, IDDRC
  • Avital Cnaan, PhD, MS, Associate Director, Biostatistics and Study Design Core
  • Vittorio Gallo, PhD, Director, IDDRC
  • William Gaillard, MD, Associate Director IDDRC, Director, Neuroimaging Core
  • Gerard Gioia, PhD, Director, Neuropsychology Core
  • Yetrib Hathout, PhD, Associate Director, Genomics/Proteomics Core
  • Eric Hoffman, PhD, Director, Genomics/Proteomics Core
  • Jyoti Jaiswal, PhD, Director, Cellular Imaging Core
  • Robert McCarter, PhD, Director, Biostatistics and Study Design Core
  • Mendel Tuchman, MD, Scientific Director, CRI
  • Benjamin Yerys, PhD, Assistant Professor, Psychology; IDDRC Faculty Representative
 
External Advisory Committee 
Leonard Abbeduto, PhD
Director, UC Davis MIND Institute
Tsakopoulos-Vismara Endowed Chair
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
School of Medicine UC Davis MIND Institute
Elizabeth Dykens, PhD
Director and Annette Schaffer Eskind Professor
Vanderbilt Kennedy Center
Professor of Psychology and Human Development
Professor of Psychiatry
Vanderbilt University
Michael J. Friedlander, PhD
Founding Executive Director, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute
Associate Provost for Health Sciences, Virginia Tech
Senior Dean for Research, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
Professor of Biological Sciences, College of Science, Virginia Tech
Professor, Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences
Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
Michael Robinson, PhD
Associate Director
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center
Professor of Pediatrics
Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia
University of Pennsylvania

Recruitment of New Investigators

At present Children’s IDDRC only services federally funded (NIH/NSF/DOD) grants. Junior faculty members who are applying for their first federal grant but are not yet funded are the only potential exceptions. New investigators are accepted into the IDDRC through a two-step process:

  1. Prospective investigators submit a one-page summary of the project describing its relevance to intellectual and developmental disabilities and the need for support from core services. Applicants must document current Institutional Review Board (IRB)/Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval if relevant, and will be requested to supply documentation of renewal of these approvals.
  2. The Steering Committee determines if the project meets Children’s IDDRC criteria and warrants the use of one or more core facilities. If the project is approved, the Steering Committee submits a recommendation to the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). In case of initial rejection by the Steering Committee, an appeal can be made to the IDDRC director. Advice concerning resolution of conflicts will be sought from department heads, officials of Children’s, George Washington University, Georgetown University, and/or NICHD.

Other National IDDRC Programs & Sponsors

Contact

For more information related to the IDDRC, contact Vittorio Gallo, PhD.