Nature and nurture  pg. 3

Today, scientists here have at their disposal an armamentarium of tools capable of describing the clinical and genetic details of neurodevelopmental disorders like autism, literally peering into the brain of an individual with schizophrenia, or hunting for single base changes among billions of DNA molecules, which could correlate with increased risk of ADHD.

We at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center are attempting to take advantage both of our history and the recent technology revolutions that have brought tools to assess our genome, or to view the brain in action, monitoring both with high temporal and spatial resolution. We’re creating more opportunities for clinician-scientists, basic scientists and interventionists to co-habitate, in a sense, to interact at a level at which a common problem of great interest to each scientist serves as the basis for launching multidisciplinary research, training and educating.

Imagine the possibilities for discovery as brain imagers, geneticists, basic developmental neuroscientists and neurophysiologists sit together with developmental and clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists, special educators and interventionists. Imagine faculty in special education working with the tools of modern brain imaging or with the sophisticated molecular methods of human genetics to solve the mysteries of cognitive or behavioral disorders in children. Imagine a mouse neurobiologist attending an autism clinic to gain a better sense of the fine details of social dysfunction in an attempt to produce a better model in the laboratory.

Can we imagine that this is what Donald Hebb had in mind when he was trying to unravel the mysteries of the human learning machine? We’re not debating nature versus nurture; we’re embracing them both, and indeed, doing it very well at Vanderbilt.

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