KIDDRC News Winter 2014-Spring 2015

KIDDRC Research in the News

Kathryn Bigelow, Dale Walker, Fox4 News Kansas City, Why talking to your baby matters.

Judy Carta, Kansas City Star, Early childhood education spotlight is on KC.

Judy Carta, Charles Greenwood, Dale Walker, KU News, Government grant to support work in language, literacy development.

Betty Hart, Todd Risley, The New Yorker, The talking cure.

Betty Hart, Todd Risley, National Geographic, The first year.

Debra Kamps, Kathy Bourque, Linda Heitzman-Powell, Rose Mason, Suzanne Cox, Autism Speaks, Social training with peers helps kids with autism.

Amy McCart, Channel 6 News, KU group working to integrate general and special education students.


KIDDRC research that showed improved social skills with peer networks featured on Autism Speaks website

A peer network of three childrenThe first large randomized study of a social communication intervention for children with ASD has supported what KIDDRC researcher Debra Kamps and colleagues long suspected: children with autism can learn to be social. The study was featured on the Autism Speaks homepage and research site in April.

A four-year research effort funded by the U.S. Department of Education focused on the impact of social peer networks and involved 95 students with ASD in Kansas and Washington. Children, kindergarten through first grade, participated in a two-year intervention in which each child was grouped with two-to-three typically developing classmates in a peer network.

The social peer network focused on teaching social communication skills while the children played with toys and board games. “We found that the children who participated in the social network not only made significant progress in social communication during the intervention but also made many more initiations to their peers in general,” Kamps said.

Kamps is the director of the Kansas Center for Research and Training on Autism (K-CART). KU collaborators were Kathy Bourque, associate research professor, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project (JGCP); Linda Heitzman-Powell, associate research professor, KU Medical Center; Rose Mason, assistant research professor, and Suzanne Cox, project coordinator, JGCP. Research partners were at the University of Washington-Seattle. The study was published in December 2014 by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

KIDDRC researchers to direct national network to ‘bridge the word gap’

Judith Carta, Ph.D., Mayor Sly James, Dale Walker, Ph.D., Charlies Greenwood, Ph.D.A team of KIDDRC researchers is directing a network of leading interdisciplinary language and literacy development researchers to address the serious disparity in language development among children who live in poverty.

The Bridging the Word Gap Network takes it name from the 30-million-word difference some children from poverty backgrounds hear by age four compared to the experiences of more affluent children. This word gap was first identified at KU by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley who showed that the early difference in the amount and quality of talk to which infants and toddlers are exposed often leads to an ever-widening disparity in children’s vocabulary and early literacy skills once they are in school.

The team of KU investigators includes JGCP researchers Judith Carta, professor special education and senior scientist; Charles Greenwood, JGCP director, professor of applied behavioral science and senior scientist, and Dale Walker, associate research professor.

Their efforts garnered national attention in October 2014 with a White House ceremony to announce a $593,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is part of a larger Bridging the Word Gap effort endorsed by the White House and coordinated by HHS and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The KU research team were joined by Mayor Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri

Mabel Rice reports findings on genetics of Specific Language Impairment

Mabel Rice directs two projects both relating to the genetics of Specific Language Impairment.  In a paper published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research (2014, 57:917-928, doi:10.1044/1092-4388, she sought to investigate the etiology of late language emergence (LLE) in 24-month-old twins, considering possible twinning, zygosity, gender, and heritability effects for vocabulary and grammar phenotypes in a sample of 473 twin pairs. She found that twins had lower average language scores than norms for single-born children, with lower average performance for monozygotic than dizygotic twins and for boys than girls, although gender and zygosity did not interact. Significant heritability was detected for vocabulary (0.26) and grammar phenotypes (0.52 and 0.43 for boys and girls, respectively) in the full sample and in the sample selected for LLE (0.42 and 0.44). LLE and the appearance of Word Combinations were also significantly heritable (0.22–0.23). These findings revealed an increased likelihood of LLE in twin toddlers compared with single-born children that is modulated by zygosity and gender differences. Heritability estimates were consistent with previous research for vocabulary and add further suggestion of heritable differences in early grammar acquisition. 

In another paper in the same journal (Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 2015, 58:345-359. doi:10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-14-0150), Rice teamed up with RDA Scientific Director Lesa Hoffman.  Mabel L. Rice and Lesa Hoffman to evaluate longitudinal growth in a latent trait of receptive vocabulary in affected and unaffected children ages 2;6 (years;months) to 21 years and evaluates as possible predictors maternal education, child gender, and nonverbal IQ.  Here, a sample of 519 participants (240 with SLI; 279 unaffected) received an average of 7 annual assessments for a total of 3,012 latent trait Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) observations. It was found that children with SLI had lower levels of receptive vocabulary throughout the age range assessed and that this gap never closed. Children with higher nonverbal IQs had better PPVT performance, as did children of mothers with higher education. Child gender showed an advantage for young girls that leveled out with age and then became an advantage for boys from ages 10 to 21 years. All children's rate of vocabulary acquisition slowed around 12 years of age.  The outcomes of the study have implications for hypothesized causal pathways for individual differences; predictions differ for children under 5 years, 6–10 years, and later ages.

Soares contributes to state-of-the-field publication on maternal-fetal immunity

Michael J. Soares, Ph.D.Michael Soares, a long-time contributor to the KIDDRC community, was part of a meeting of leaders gathered at NIH for a meeting in late 2014 on maternal-fetal immunity and fetal development/pregnancy outcomes. This meeting generated a paper published in Nature Immunology (2015, 16:328-334, doi:10.1038/ni.3131) which summarized the state of the field and set priorities for the future, which included (a) increased interdisciplinary effort in understanding the delicate balance of cellular and molecular interactions occurring at the embryonic/fetal–maternal interface, (b) a call for studies exploring the relationship of altered immune cell functions to placentation defects and (c) a priority placed on for studies during normal pregnancy and during pregnancy complications with an immune etiology.

Among the most impactful work coming from Soares’ lab include papers on the adverse effects of nicotine on placental development (Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2014, 306:E443-E456, doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00478.2013), a paper showing that the transcription factor FOS inhibits trophoblast invasion, whereas FOS-like (FOSL)-1 promotes uterine invasion by the trophoblast, and that the intracellular balance of FOS family transcription factors modulates this trophoblast invasive potential, thus suggesting ways in which regulating trophoblast invasion may explain the etiology of several placenta-associated obstetrical complications (Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2014, 289:5025-5039, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.523746), and two papers in the International Journal of Developmental Biology on plasticity in the vascular structures of the uterus during early pregnancy (2014, 58: 247-259) and a summary on embryonic implantation (2014, 58:107-116).


New KIDDRC Investigators

Soumen Paul, Ph.D.Soumen Paul is a new investigator with KIDDRC.  Paul’s laboratory is investigating how transcriptional mechanisms that involve transcription factors/cofactors, distinct epigenetic marks, and other chromatin-associated factors regulate chromatin structure and thereby regulate gene expression during developmental, and physiological processes as well as during pathological conditions.   Paul’s participation in an active and interdisciplinary team of investigators working on implantation research was detailed in a publication in American Journal of Reproductive Immunology (2014, 71:1-11, doi: 10.1111/aji.12173),


Karim Rumi is also a new investigator with KIDDRC who is interested in transcriptional regulation of cell differentiation, especially its relation to early lineage determination during embryonic development. He also works on estrogen signaling in regulation of reproductive tract development and fertility.  He is coauthor with Michael Soares on three of the studies described above, and his work on developing specific animal lines is described in a paper in Endocrinology (2014, 155:1991-1999, doi:


Francesa Duncan, Ph.D. The final new investigator to join KIDDRC this year is Francesca Duncan, whose work laboratory is involved in testing the overarching hypothesis that a deterioration of gamete-intrinsic cellular pathways together with changes in the ovarian environment contribute to the reproductive age-associated decline in egg quantity and quality.  The goal of this work is to help design targeted interventions to ameliorate reproductive aging, laying the foundation to simultaneously improve women's fertile-span and health-span across generations.  She has a new NIGMS project, and her potential is demonstrated by a recent paper in Nature Chemistry (2014, 7:130-139, doi:10.1038/nchem.2133) on a series of ‘zinc sparks’ that are initiated by fertilization and which appear to be necessary to induce the transition from egg to embryo. Despite the importance of these zinc-efflux events little is known about their origin. This paper showed that the zinc spark arises from a system of thousands of zinc-loaded vesicles, each of which contains, on average, 106 zinc atoms. These vesicles undergo dynamic movement during oocyte maturation and exocytosis at the time of fertilization. The discovery of these vesicles and the demonstration that zinc sparks originate from them provides a quantitative framework for understanding how zinc fluxes regulate cellular processes.  In addition to this prestigious paper, she has also published on protein kinase A in mouse oocyte maturation (Biology of Reproduction, 2014, 90:1-12, doi:, on changes in chromosomal micromechanics with age (Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 2015, doi:10.1007/s10815-015-0453-y), and other zinc-related mechanisms in the initiation of the first mitotic divisions (Developmental Dynamics, 2015, doi: 10.1002/dvdy.24285).

SWIFT becomes 14th LSI Center

The SWIFT (Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation) Center has became the Life Span Institute’s fourteenth affiliated center in April 2015. The LSI administers the KIDDRC.

SWIFT, a national K-8 technical assistance center, was funded with a $24 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2012 to institute a KU research-based approach to inclusion that realigns educational resources to support all students, including those with disabilities, in five states. The grant was the second highest in KU’s history to date.

“We are proud to recognize SWIFT’s national scope and influence with a designation as one of the Life Span Institute’s centers,” said John Colombo, LSI director. “This project has the potential to be a turning point for American education.”

The SWIFT center provides intensive, on-site technical assistance to 64 schools in 27 districts in Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont. The states were selected based on criteria that included having a combination of rural, urban and high-need districts. Further, SWIFT assists state education agencies to implement and sustain statewide school reform.

SWIFT brings together special and general education in a comprehensive continuum of supports and services. For example, said Wayne Sailor, SWIFT director, schools implement a multitiered system of support of increasing intensity of instruction for all students that includes addressing behavior issues that impede the learning progress

KU Center on Learning joins LSI

With a common philosophical “ancestor”—Richard Schiefelbusch—the Center for Research on Learning was a natural to become the Life Span Institute’s newest affiliated center – its thirteenth - when it joined LSI on July 1, 2014.

CRL was founded at KU in 1978 as the Institute for Research on Learning and has pioneered several innovative methods for working with diverse classrooms and students with learning disabilities. Mike Hock, an associate research scientist at KU since 1990, was named interim director.

Today, CRL is an internationally recognized research and development organization known for innovative solutions to problems that limit individuals’ ability to learn and perform in school, work or in the community.

CRL is organized around eight research groups: Advanced Learning Technologies (ALTEC) directed by Marilyn Ault; the Division of Adult Studies, directed by Daryl Mellard; The E-Learning Design Lab, directed by Ed Meyen and James Miller; The Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies directed by Jean Hall; the Institute for Research on Adolescent Learning, directed by Mike Hock; The Kansas Coaching Project, directed by Jim Knight; the Professional Development Research Institute, directed by Patricia Garner, and the Transition Coalition, directed by Mary Morningstar.

Besides complementing the Life Span Institute’s early development and literacy work, CRL and LSI share a common interest in disability policy research. The CRL’s Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies is a national leader in disability policy issues that support access to quality care for those with disabilities.

“We are really looking enjoying working with CRL,” said LSI Director John Colombo, “They have great people and there is a clear synergy of their mission with the LSI.”

With the addition of CRL, LSI bolsters its standing as the largest research center at KU in terms of annual research expenditures.


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