Researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute will develop and evaluate tests designed to measure and track changes in the cognitive functioning of people who typically are difficult to assess accurately: those with an intellectual disability, formerly termed mental retardation. The research will be funded through a new, five-year, $3.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The effort will be paired with other research conducted at the MIND Institute and elsewhere, which seeks to evaluate the efficacy of new, investigational treatments for people with intellectual disability. The tests will eventually be used to ascertain the effectiveness of medications and other treatments, specifically for people with fragile X and Down syndromes and other intellectual disabilities. Fragile X and Down syndromes are among the leading causes of intellectual disability in the United States and around the world. Fragile X syndrome also is the leading single-gene cause of autism spectrum disorder.
At the MIND Institute, the research will be led by principal investigator David Hessl (pictured), professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Translational Psychophysiology and Assessment Laboratory, and co-investigator Leonard Abbeduto, director of the MIND Institute and Tsakopoulos-Vismara Endowed Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
“There are virtually no comprehensive and developmentally appropriate, well-validated and reliable cognitive measures suitable for tracking treatment responses in people with intellectual disability,” Hessl said, “but there are exciting new therapies being evaluated now and more on the horizon, which suggests that substantial gains in cognitive functioning are possible, even for adults with lifelong cognitive deficits.”
"Most currently available standardized tests have been developed mainly for the general population and are not well-suited for people with intellectual disabilities,” he said. “They just weren’t designed for people with the level of functioning we typically see in fragile X and Down syndromes. What we will be working to do is modify and then validate the NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery so that it works well for individuals with intellectual disability.”
The NIH Toolbox is a multidimensional set of brief measures assessing cognitive, emotional, motor and sensory function from ages 3 to 85, meeting the need for a standard set of measures that can be used as a common currency across diverse study designs and settings. The cognitive test battery used in the study is a computer-based set of tests tapping processing speed, memory, attention and language.
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- Researchers were granted $53 million in awards towards stem cell research.
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