About the Program
The Joseph P. Kennedy Mental Retardation Research Center ( Kennedy Center) was established to promote collaborative research in the causes, prevention and treatment of mental retardation and developmental disabilities. The members are a multidisciplinary group of scientists who have active research programs in areas related to understanding brain function and the cause of developmental abnormalities. Operating under the umbrella of a Program Project grant, as well as their own individual funding, Center members share research facilities and promote an interdisciplinary research agenda.
The Center’s longstanding Program Project titled “The Biological Basis of Mental Retardation” (Nancy Schwartz, PhD, Principal Investigator) was recently renewed for an additional five years. Its goal is to define the principles governing normal nervous system developmental processes that may lead to brain dysfunction and mental retardation. The Center’s research under the general rubric of mental retardation and developmental disabilities currently focus mainly on studies of mechanisms of neurodegeneration which affect brain development and function, skeletal dysplasias which affect growth and maturation, and signaling pathways which affect migration and differentiation. The overall research grant support is awarded mostly by NIH and this year’s grants total well over $1,000,000 in direct costs.
The Kennedy Center provides rigorous training to young researchers, clinicians and students through a variety of programs and tailors research programs based on the interest of the individual researcher. Both Drs. Schwartz and Dawson have administrative roles in the Department’s “Child Health Research Career Development Award.” This career development program trains young pediatricians for careers in investigative research at the University of Chicago. Scholars chosen for this program spends time in their chosen mentor’s laboratory to acquire the technical skills and academic depth of knowledge to develop competitive, independent research programs.
Dr. Schwartz is Director of the MD/PhD Growth and Development Training Program (GDTP), the Markey PhD Program in Molecular Medicine, and the new Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). The GDTP offers basic science training for investigation in a broad range of disciplines by supporting students in a joint MD/PhD program and has successfully been pursued for the past 35 years. The Markey program provides training to PhD students and bridges the gap between basic science research and its relevance to human biology and disease processes. The PREP is an opportunity for underrepresented minorities who hold a recent bachelor’s degree in science to work as laboratory technicians for one to two years at the University of Chicago, while participating in academic activities designed to help them prepare for successful application to an advanced degree program. All of these educational programs are funded by the NIH. The Center also offers resources to other sections in the Department with a seminar series, visiting lectureships and several shared research facilities.