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The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Center at Baylor College Receives Competitive Federal Grant to Advance Research and Therapies

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) at Baylor College of Medicine recently received a highly-competitive grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The $6.4 million five-year competitive grant was awarded to the IDDRC’s director, Dr. Huda Zoghbi, professor at Baylor College, director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (Duncan NRI) at Texas Children’s Hospital and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; as well as Dr. David Nelson, professor at Baylor College and Dr. Rodney Samaco, assistant professor at Baylor College, who are the Center’s co-directors and investigators at the Duncan NRI.

This IDDRC has played a transformative role in shaping the research landscape of intellectual and developmental disorders (IDD) by discovering the genetic mutations and molecular mechanisms underlying many such disorders. It is one of 14 such centers in the nation funded by the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). It is the only IDDRC in the entire state of Texas and has the rare distinction of being continuously funded since 1988.

This Center’s goals are to understand the biology of as many IDD as possible, find ways to prevent or reduce the disabilities resulting from these conditions, and to discover interventional strategies to improve the overall quality of life for affected individuals. The Center nurtures and brings together researchers from varied disciplines to work collaboratively toward a common goal of finding novel treatments and interventional approaches for currently intractable neurodevelopmental disorders. It has been instrumental in advancing and integrating basic science, translational and clinical endeavors to improve the lives of affected individuals. Beyond discoveries, the Center has also mentored more than two generations of scientists and physicians who are engaged in the research and treatment of such patients. In addition, it is actively involved in community engagement, outreach education and patient advocacy.

“We are very excited to be awarded this highly-competitive grant which will help in the growth and evolution of our Center. With this award, we will be able to re-imagine new possibilities across the spectrum of translational science and bring in novel elements such as the latest, cutting-edge technologies, instruments and infrastructure to the Center. It also offers us the opportunity to strengthen ongoing studies and create new collaborations. We are excited to support new education, engagement and outreach initiatives that will be led by Susan Fernbach, director of Genetic Outreach at Baylor College. Together, the proposed activities will further nurture and elevate the research programs of our participating faculty and learner groups while broadening the reach and impact of their work.” Samaco said.

This IDDRC oversees six major Core Facilities that represent the fundamental analytical units of the translational IDD research pipeline. From molecules (Molecular & Expression Analysis, Director: Dr. Cecilia Ljungberg), cells and tissues (Cell & Tissue Pathogenesis, Director: Dr. Roy Sillitoe), circuits (Circuit Analysis & Modulation, Director: Dr. Benjamin Arenkiel), and whole organism outcomes (Preclinical & Clinical Outcomes, Director: Dr. Rodney Samaco), these Cores provide state-of-the-art facilities, techniques, and expertise for cross-species and cost-effective analyses. The Clinical Translational Core (Directors: Drs. Sandesh Nagamani and Eric Storch) provides services specific for clinical research infrastructure. These Cores serve as the nexus for accessible resources, infrastructure, and skillful expertise. By eliminating barriers and enabling multidisciplinary research, the Center will continue to enhance the research capacity and the breadth of over 70 investigators, highly-trained faculty scientists and physicians studying a wide range of neurological and other developmental disorders.

“Continuous federal and non-federal funding as well as generous support from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, has allowed our IDDRC to bring together multidisciplinary collaborations and invest in the latest state-of-the-art technologies and equipment, some worth millions of dollars. This is an expense that individual labs or researchers typically cannot afford, justify, or have the expertise to establish, but is increasingly necessary to push the boundaries of scientific and medical knowledge. Our signature project for this proposal is focused on “Clinical Trial Readiness”. Led by project directors, Drs. Mirjana Maletic-Savatic and Matthew McGinley, we propose to bring together basic neuroscientists, translational researchers and physicians to not only create a translational and preclinical pipeline of novel treatments, but eventually develop a model of precision neurological care for patients with intellectual and developmental disorders,” Samaco concluded.

More information on IDDRC can be found here.

Rajalaxmi Natarajan, PhD
Wednesday, November 11, 2020