After a highly competitive selection process, UC Davis has been awarded a five-year, $750,000 federal grant to train 10 specialists in research related to the rehabilitation of patients with neuromuscular and neurodevelopmental disorders.
The grant from the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research, an agency within the U.S. Department of Education, underscores UC Davis' reputation as an international leader in the study of conditions such as muscular dystrophy and autism.
"This critical funding will help us address the severe shortage of experienced, qualified rehabilitation researchers in the areas of neuromuscular and neurodevelopmental disorders," said Craig McDonald, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and an internationally recognized expert in the clinical management and rehabilitation of muscular dystrophies. "While the subspecialties of neuromuscular and neurodevelopmental disorders have historically attracted clinicians, the training of clinical scientists in these disciplines has been neglected, creating a profound shortage of qualified researchers."
Neurodevelopmental and neuromuscular disorders are highly complex diseases that can have a tremendous impact on health, quality of life and life expectancy. Because of their unrelenting, progressive nature, many of the disorders create enormous psychological, emotional and financial burdens for patients, families and caregivers.
More than 5 percent of the population suffers from genetic and acquired neuromuscular disorders such as muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) and peripheral neuropathy, which represent major causes of mortality and morbidity in American children and adults. Similarly, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and fragile X syndrome also have a significant impact on human health, altering both the developing and mature nervous system, and affecting emotion, learning ability, cognition, social interactions and communication. Once considered rare, autism-spectrum disorders are now known to affect more than 1 in 150 persons -- and possibly as many as 1 in 91.
While McDonald is the principal investigator of the grant, he said the training program will be a collaboration leveraging stellar resources within UC Davis' Clinical and Translational Science Center, together with training programs directed by Jay Han, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and Robin Hansen, professor of pediatrics and director of clinical programs at the UC Davis MIND Institute.
"This project is a real example of collaborative, interdisciplinary research at UC Davis and one reason why this institution has been able to excel in team science and clinical translational research," McDonald said.
Under the grant, each trainee will complete a two-year comprehensive program to develop specialized and interdisciplinary research skills in the field. Trainees will be either physicians, post-doctoral fellows or allied health professionals and will follow a "hands-on," individualized research training plan, supervised by an experienced group of mentors.
Over time, McDonald said, the training will help UC Davis "accelerate the translation of new knowledge acquired through basic science into clinical therapeutics and rehabilitation interventions that will enhance the health, function and quality of life for those with these disabling disorders."
In addition to the training grant, the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation recently received two additional NIH grants related to muscular dystrophy research, totaling almost $2 million over four years. One grant will fund ancillary studies linked to a multi-center natural history study of Duchenne muscular dystrophy currently led by UC Davis. The second grant will help researchers generate much-needed data on novel biomarkers as outcome measures for future clinical trials.
McDonald said the timing of the NIH grants, supporting Duchenne muscular dystrophy work, dovetails perfectly with the training grant.
"There are many exciting therapeutic interventions on the horizon for neuromuscular and neurodevelopmental disorders, and we anticipate that our trainees will emerge from their program and be perfectly positioned to take part in clinical trials relating to those innovative treatments," he said.