Training Program in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

Established in 1998, the Hospital's Training Program in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities trains MD, PhD or MD/PhD postdoctoral fellows each year in research on genetic and acquired disorders that cause mental retardation or developmental disability.

Each trainer under the grant is a faculty scientist with a record of commitment to the training of young researchers. Michael B. Robinson, PhD, serves as the Principal Investigator/Program Director (PI/PD) of this grant, which funds a rich educational program that includes frequent lectures, formal courses, a clinical practicum, monthly conferences and an annual convocation of the group.

The interdisciplinary program draws faculty from the Department of Pediatrics, multiple departments in the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the School of Veterinary Medicine. The focus of the program is mental retardation caused by chromosomal defects, inborn errors of metabolism (aminoacidurias, urea cycle defects, etc.) or hypoxia and trauma (peri-natal insult, traumatic brain injury, etc.).

An executive committee selects trainees from the postdoctoral fellows who apply for the program. We particularly encourage applications from members of minority groups that are underrepresented in science. In order to ensure that the selected trainees fully take advantage of the rich opportunities that the program offers, trainees are carefully supervised and their progress is monitored with a series of obligatory oral presentations and regular written reports from both trainees and supervising trainers. Graduates of the program are expected to assume academic positions at major medical schools and to become future leaders in research involving mental retardation.

The training program is intended to facilitate the development of research skills. Therefore, the program will include:

  1. Development of written skills. It is expected that trainees supported by this training grant submit peer-reviewed publications and an individual NRSA or comparable grant, if appropriate.
  2. Oral communication skills. It is expected that trainees regularly attend the Neuroscience Chalk Talk Seminar Series. Each trainee is expected to present their work (planned work) once a year. Trainees should attend at least one national (or international) meeting each year and should present their work at least once during the training period at one of these meetings. The training grant will support up to $500 in appropriate travel expenses.
  3. Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). All trainees are required by NIH to participate in training activities (NIH Notice Number NOT-OD-10-019, Release Date November 24, 2009). The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) requires that all trainees participate in the online Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) training program and complete two, four-hour, face-to-face RCR workshop sessions. These programs are to be completed at least once and at a frequency of no less than once every four years. The Office of Responsible Research Training at CHOP monitors (documents) the completion of this training via sign-in sheets for face-to-face sessions and direct tracking for the online CITI program.
  4. Research career skills. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia through the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and the University of Pennsylvania through the Office of Biomedical Postdoctoral Program (BPP) sponsor a number of activities that are intended for trainees to develop the other skills that will be needed for career development. Trainees will have access to both sets of programs.
  5. Seminar attendance. There are several different seminar series that are offered here at the Children's Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania, including the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) Series (lunch is provided). Trainees should attend at least one seminar series on a regular basis. Trainees will also be asked to suggest potential speakers each year.
  6. Neurobiology of Disease. Each trainee will be required to participate in the Neurobiology of Disease Course (basic course or 1 module) offered through the University of Pennsylvania. Individuals who have already taken this class can be exempted from this requirement. Depending upon the circumstance, this and other classes will either be taken for credit or will be audited. This can be decided in concert with the PI/PD upon appointment.
  7. Exposure to clinical themes/clinical practicum. Trainees are expected to participate in four hours of activities to gain exposure to clinical themes relevant to developmental disabilities. There are several mechanisms available such as attending the Clinical Neuroscience Conference; attending the brain-cutting sessions in the Department of Pathology; and shadowing clinicians in one of the Hospital’s clinics. These activities can be decided in concert with the PI/PD upon appointment.
  8. Other coursework. Depending on a trainee's background, individuals will be required (or encouraged) to take graduate courses or complete a degree program. Please refer to the University of Pennsylvania Biomedical Graduate Studies website for potential courses ( As part of the application process, trainees should identify courses that may be most helpful in filling gaps in knowledge. It is assumed that most trainees will not take more than one class per year (including the Neurobiology of Disease requirement).
    Individuals interested in basic research might consider the following classes, but should feel free to identify other courses that may be better suited for their needs: Electrical Language of Cells (NGG 572 Core II), Systems and Integrative Neuroscience (NGG 573 Core III), Cell Biology (BIOM 600 NGG Core I), Neurotransmitter Signaling & Pharmacology (NGG 510 [PHRM 510]), Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (NGG 575), Neuropsychopharmacology (NGG 576), Advanced Topics in Behavioral Genetics (NGG 578), or Neural Development, Regeneration and Repair (NGG 597).
    Clinicians might be interested in the Masters Program in Clinical Epidemiology or the Masters in Translational Research. Depending on the stage of training and the availability of funding, the program may be able to support a significant percentage (or all) of the tuition costs associated with these programs. If a trainee is interested in pursuing one of these degrees, this should be indicated in the training grant application.
  9. Mentor/co-mentor. The training program requires that trainees choose a mentor. The list of currently approved mentors is listed below.

    If the proposed mentor is not currently a member of the training grant, they will need to provide their NIH biosketch, including other support. Please note that mentors must have suitable independent funding (at least PI of an NIH R01 or R01 equivalent) and evidence that this funding will last through the duration of the training period. This is done to ensure that trainees will have access to adequate support during their training period. The mentor should also have a history of having successfully trained other individuals; mentors not on the list need to provide a copy of their training record using the standard NIH format for training grants (please contact Kristen Hearty at for information). It is understood that some faculty may not have extensive training records. In this case, a plan should be described that will ensure that trainees will have regular access to experienced mentors.

    Trainees are also required to identify an individual who can provide additional help as they progress through the program. The individual can either serve as a co-advisor or be someone who will commit to meet with the trainee on at least an annual basis to discuss progress with research, progress toward achieving longer term career objectives, and plans for the coming year. If, for example, a trainee writes a grant, it is expected that this person would read the proposal and provide feedback. This co-mentor should come from the list of mentors, but if this is not appropriate, other individuals can serve in this capacity. Please be sure to identify the individual who has agreed to serve in this capacity.

  10. Resident-in-scholar. Each year we invite one seminar speaker to spend an extra day here on campus. The trainees supported by this training grant serve as hosts for this speaker during this day (individual meetings, lunch, and dinner).

List of Trainers With Faculty Interests

Michael B. Robinson, PhD, Program Director
Research Interests: Sodium dependent excitatory amino acid transporters

Ted Abel, PhD
Research Interests: Learning and memory in developmental disabilities

Stewart Anderson, MD
Research Interests: Molecular and cellular development of the mammalian forebrain

Gordon Barr, PhD
Research Interests: Environmental effects on developing nervous system

Seema Bhatagnar, PhD
Research Interests: Neural mechanisms related to chronic stress exposure

Edward (Ted) Brodkin, MD
Research Interests: My laboratory uses methods of genetics and genomics to dissect the neurobiological pathways mediating social behaviors, including aggression and sociability.

Anjan Chatterjee, MD
Research Interests: Cognitive Imaging

Akiva Cohen, PhD
Research Interests: Cellular and circuit mechanisms of traumatic brain injury

Douglas A. Coulter, PhD
Research Interests: Cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying epilepsy

Thomas Curran, PhD
Research Interests: Neoplastic growth in the developing nervous system

Beverly Davidson, PhD
Research Interests: pathogenesis and therapy of hereditary neurogenetic diseases and the role of noncoding RNAs in neural development

John A. Detre, MD
Research Interests: Clinical applications of functional MRI

Beverly S. Emanuel, PhD
Research Interests: Velocardiofacial syndrome, mapping of chromosome 22

Martha Farah, PhD
Research Interests: Neurocognitive development- language and vision

Judith B. Grinspan, PhD
Research Interests: Oligodendrocyte development and myelination in the CNS

Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD
Research Interests: Genetic factors that underlie complex medical disorders

Rebecca Ichord, MD
Research Interests: Childhood stroke and acute brain injury

Harry Ischiropoulos, PhD
Research Interests: Nitrosylation and brain function

Robert Kalb, MD
Research Interests: Synaptic activity between neurons

Ian Krantz, MD
Research Interests: Molecular basis for human birth defects, Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS)

Daniel Licht, MD
Research Interests: Influence of congenital heart defects on fetal brain development

David R. Lynch, MD, PhD
Research Interests: NMDA receptors and excitotoxicity

Eric Marsh, MD, PhD
Research Interests: Interneuron development, epilepsy models, intracranial EEG recordings, electrophysiology

Timothy P. Roberts, PhD
Research Interests: Functional neuroimaging

Robert T. Schultz, PhD
Research Interests: Cognitive neuroscience and autism research

Charles Stanley, MD
Research Interests: Congenital defects of glutamate metabolism

Rita Valentino, PhD Trainer
Research Interests: Biology of stress

Douglas Wallace, PhD
Research Interests: Mitochondrial inborn errors in metabolism

John H. Wolfe, VMD, PhD
Research Interests: Lysosomal genetic disorders that affect the brain

Marc Yudkoff, MD
Research Interests: Amino acid metabolism in inborn errors of metabolism

How to Apply

Postdoctoral candidates are selected for the training program based on an assessment of their ability and potential, as evidenced by their previous achievements in research and letters of recommendation. All prospective candidates are screened by the trainee selection committee as positions become available.


MD candidates should have had clinical training in Pediatrics, Neurology, Neuropathology or a related field. PhD candidates should have completed their PhD in neuroscience or a related field and should have conducted neuroscience research. We encourage applications from members of minority groups that are underrepresented in science careers. All candidates must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents (green card holders) to be eligible for support from this training grant.

Application Materials

The Application for Training Grant candidates must be completed, and the required documents provided. Please send application materials to Kristen Hearty, 3615 Civic Center Boulevard, Abramson Research Center, Room 502, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4318 or to