Director’s Message




For more than 50 years, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) has worked to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities. We have long recognized that a multitude of methods and approaches are necessary to achieve success. Built upon the remarkable strength of educational and behavioral approaches at Peabody College, over the years the VKC has integrated into this foundation innovation in basic neurobiology. This combined approach has allowed for a deeper understanding of underlying causes, enhanced exploration into biomedical approaches to therapy, fostered community relationships, and enabled an expansion into public health and policy.

These ever-expanding approaches and methods are critical to furthering our overall mission. However, we recognize there are challenges. Developmental disabilities are highly variable, even within a single “disability.” For example, there is a high degree of variability amongst people with autism with regard to the underlying cause, specific characteristics, other medical coexisting conditions, skills, and response to standard therapies. Similarly, although all people with reading difficulties share challenges with extracting information from written text, not all respond the same way to particular learning methods. The overall variation in causes, features, and response to intervention make the development of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to developmental disabilities suboptimal.

We need a tailored approach. This is not a foreign idea in the world of disabilities. In the educational world, VKC members have been conducting research into developing educational and behavioral interventions that address individual differences for well over 50 years. In the medical world, great advances are being made in “personalized” or “precision” medicine, which is usually defined as finding the right medicine for the right person at the right time. We recognize that successful approaches to improving lives will need to consider the full range of approaches utilized in the VKC, so rather than “precision medicine,” we think of “precision care” for developmental disabilities. This still rests on the fundamental idea of identifying the right approach to improving the life of a person with a developmental disability and providing it at the right time. This approach or “care” might be a specific educational intervention, a targeted behavioral therapy, or specific medications. Furthermore, the idea encompasses empowering remote communities to be capable to provide such care, and to shape larger policy around these issues.

Moving forward, the VKC will continue to encourage efforts to foster the idea of precision care at a biomedical, behavioral, and educational level and to bring these same concepts to the community and policy levels. I hope you enjoy this issue of Discovery featuring some of the ways we have been applying this concept in our activities, and will join us in future efforts of improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities.



Message from Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is recognized as a national leader in precision care. We think of care holistically—health, certainly, but also social, behavioral, educational, and environmental factors that define individual well-being. We are extraordinarily proud of the distinguished history of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) in discovery in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Through decades of investment, VUMC has led the nation’s efforts in DNA biobanking and biomedical informatics. BioVU, our DNA resource that embeds de-identified medical records, is among the world’s largest and is leading to discoveries that support precision care across a wide range of conditions. 

The VKC is leading our understanding of precision care within the context of developmental disabilities. For example, a grant received recently from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development will leverage BioVU to identify better predictors of health challenges in people with Down syndrome, while paving the way for targeted therapies. VKC-affiliated researchers are focused on drug discovery related to Rett syndrome, with an eye towards identifying treatments that can be targeted towards people with the specific genetic mutations that cause this condition. This approach provides a clear path towards precision care for a specific neurodevelopmental disorder, while providing a blueprint for how to approach precision care in other genetic disorders as well.

From basic science discoveries to clinical trials of new drug therapies to behavioral and educational treatments and support, the VKC is focused on precision interventions that will enhance individual quality of life of children and adults with disabilities. The VKC has always reflected Vanderbilt’s culture and compassionate focus on the holistic needs of the individual. The future is exceptionally promising as the Center leverages the institution’s cutting-edge capabilities and leadership in precision medicine to fundamentally improve the care and lives of people with developmental disabilities.