Technology as a tool for bringing research and services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, families, and communities was the focus of keynote speaker Leonard Abbeduto, Ph.D., at the 10th Annual Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Science Day, Jan. 23. In addition to the keynote, highlights included Data Blitz presentations by winners of the research poster abstracts and two poster sessions. Link here to view Science Day photo gallery.
Ron Emeson, Ph.D., VKC Science Day chair, opened Science Day, welcoming attendees in “sharing the Center’s scientific advancements of the last year that have been built upon a long history of collaborative interactions among over 300 current faculty researchers, staff, and affiliate members working together across a wide variety of disciplines to create basic and clinical scientific discoveries, to translate research into best practices, and to train the next generation of researchers and practitioners.”
Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine, invited attendees “to talk, listen, learn, and to celebrate.” He emphasized the ways in which “we learn from one another, and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center does this in a boundary-less way. The hardest problems to solve are at the intersections of disciplines. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is a poster child of truly interdisciplinary education and research, and it gets stronger every year.”
“I’m excited to experience my first VKC Science Day,” said VKC director Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D., who assumed the Center’s leadership in August 2017. “Major advances in behavioral and educational therapies and in biological sciences are being made here. We aim to bridge all these aspects and to integrate them into comprehensive approaches to develop precision care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Technology as a tool to expand the reach of IDD research, treatments, and training was the theme of the keynote address by Leonard Abbeduto, Ph.D., Tsakopoulos-Vismara Endowed Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the MIND Institute, University of California Davis, which like the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) is a national Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
“We must develop more powerful evidence-based diagnostic procedures, evaluation tools, treatments, and educational strategies,” Abbeduto said. “We must make services and supports available to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, language, or geography. We must create cost-effective services and systems of support.”
Abbeduto described a language intervention research study that he has led focused on teaching parents how to optimize their interactions and language input to help shape language development in their children with fragile X syndrome, the leading inherited cause of intellectual disability. The intervention is delivered to parents in their homes through video teleconferencing and other digital technologies.
“This use of technology has multiple advantages,” Abbeduto said. “It places a low burden on families in that they do not have to travel some distance to clinics. Because the intervention is taking place in the child’s home, it supports generalization. Technology makes it possible to deliver the intervention more frequently. It is accessible for virtually all families, allowing us to serve families in rural areas where services often are lacking. It is cost-effective—and it creates an alliance between parents and the professionals.”
In his summary, Abbeduto emphasized “the need to treat and to support the whole family.” He called for “boosting the synergistic interventions of medicine with behavioral and educational interventions,” and for partnerships between the academic research community and entrepreneurs. “There is not one answer,” he said.
The innovative use of technology by VKC researchers in conducting research and delivering training and services by VKC research teams was apparent among the 95 posters presented by Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows working in labs led by VKC researchers. Examples of technology use include the following posters, first authors/presenters, and VKC researchers:
- Statewide implementation of an experiential training paradigm to support educators through in-person and teleconferenced training, coaching, and mentorship—Chelsea McQueen; Whitney Loring and Pablo Juárez.
- A pilot model for increasing access to services: Embedding ASD diagnosis within the medical home—Anna Pasternak; Jeffery Hine, Zachary Warren
- Effects of a virtual reality social training intervention on loneliness and social cognition in patients with schizophrenia—Laura Hieber Adery; Nilanjan Sarkar, Sohee Park
- Developing and implementing case-based telehealth training for primary care providers of adults with IDD—Janet Shouse; Elise McMillan, Beth Malow, Thomas Cheetham, Paul Dressler
- Using robotics to increase academic and social skills of students with autism—John Wright; Victoria Knight
Warren Lambert Memorial Travel Award Prizes for Outstanding Research Posters
Long-time VKC statistician and statistics consultant Warren Lambert passed away in January 2017. Faculty, students, and former students whom Lambert had assisted over the years donated funds in his honor, which enabled the VKC to offer $500 Travel Awards for winners of the annual VKC Science Day poster competition, to be used to present their research at scientific meetings.
“For Warren, consultation was a way of teaching,” said David Zald, Ph.D., Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair, professor of Psychology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, and member of VKC Science Day 2018 Planning Committee.
Based on abstracts of research posters submitted, the Science Day Planning Committee selected an undergraduate student recipient, and a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow prize recipient in three thematic areas. The latter presented their studies in a 5-minute “data blitz” or “lightning talk”:
Undergraduate prize recipient
- Asynchronous audiovisual speech requires greater neural processing —Aster Samuel, VKC advisor Mark Wallace
Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience Research
- Excitatory to inhibitory transition in GABAergic currents guides circuit formation of cortical interneurons—Kirill Zavalin, graduate student, VKC advisor André Lagrange
- Alterations in arginine and cholesterol metabolism are rescued with manganese exposure in a mouse model of Huntington disease—Anna Pfalzer, postdoctoral fellow, VKC advisor Aaron Bowman
Clinical, Behavioral, and Intervention Research
- Can an automated measure—Child Reciprocal Vocal Contingency—predict language outcomes for young children with autism spectrum disorders?—Jena McDaniel, graduate student, VKC advisor Paul Yoder
- More than just numbers: Examining how pattern and spatial skills predict preschoolers’ math knowledge—Erica Zippert, postdoctoral fellow, VKC advisor Bethany Rittle-Johnson
Systems Neuroscience Research
- Neural bias to speech using auditory event-related potentials in children—Allison Whitten, graduate student, VKC advisor James Bodfish
- Meta-modulation of mGlu5 by mGlu3 during hippocampal dependent synaptic plasticity and behavior—Branden Stansley, postdoctoral fellow, VKC advisors Coleen Niswender and Jeffrey Conn
All 95 poster presenters/first authors become VKC Affiliates who are eligible in the next year to apply for a VKC Travel Award to present their research as scientific meetings and conferences. Since the last Science Day, 48 VKC Travel Awards were made to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who presented their research at 22 scientific meetings.
Experiencing Science Day
Evaluations of Science Day yield a kaleidoscope of experiences. What did attendees most appreciate? The following responses illustrate:
- Breadth of research presented.
- Opportunity to expose all of us to what these accomplished students are doing in their field of study, and eagerness to showcase students.
- The collaborative spirit, and the chance to meet faculty across many departments.
- I learned a lot throughout the process of making and practicing a 5-min talk.
- Opportunity to interact with grad students at their posters.
- Welcoming atmosphere to different kinds of research.
The VKC Planning Committee was chaired by Ron Emeson, Ph.D., Joel G. Hardman Professor of Pharmacology, professor of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. The Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience theme was led by Aaron Bowman, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, Biochemistry, and Neurology. The Clinical, Behavioral, and Intervention Research theme was led by Melanie Schuele, Ph.D., associate professor of Hearing & Speech Sciences. The Systems Neuroscience theme was led by David Zald, Ph.D., Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair and professor of Psychology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.
Appreciation of VKC staff includes Elizabeth Turner, VKC coordinator of Communications, who manages all logistics and communications for Science Day, and Jon Tapp, VKC director of Information Technology.
Jan Rosemergy is VKC Director of Communications and Dissemination.
Photos by Vanderbilt University / Steve Green