Discoveries that improve human health and welfare
THE KU LIFE SPAN INSTITUTE brings together scientists and students at the intersections of education, behavioral science and neuroscience to study problems that directly affect the health and well-being of individuals and communities in Kansas, as well as across the nation and world.
investigators, students and staff
million awarded for research in FY2019
of improving human health and welfare
Profile: Matthew Mosconi
Early diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder is critical to providing access to early intervention and other therapies that have a direct impact on the child's future quality of life. Autism is diagnosed using behavioral standards as we still do not fully understand the genetics and other factors that may cause autism.
That's one reason Matthew Mosconi focuses his research on understanding the development of behavioral and cognitive issues characteristic of autism spectrum disorder and specifically, identifying the brain mechanisms that lead to them.
Mosconi is the director of the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Treatment (K-CART), and director of the Neurobehavioral Development Laboratory, both at the University of Kansas. In this interview, he looks back at his first four years with K-CART and shares his aspirations for autism research at KU.
How would you describe your experience at KU?
A major appeal of KU was the great potential for collaborating with leading behavioral researchers interested in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the strong reputation of the Life Span Institute for fostering collaborative and productive research. The reality has exceeded my expectations. People here are very eager to support each other’s work and identify collaborative opportunities. It is difficult to create and maintain an environment that actively promotes high impact research without making investigators compete with each other or experience a shark-tank type of environment – KU and the Life Span Institute have skillfully struck and maintained this balance.
Findings: Omega-3 fatty acids
Few things are as important in a baby’s first year of life as nutrition – that’s a given. But new research suggests that increasing intake of an omega-3 fatty acid while pregnant has a positive effect on the fetus that continues to affect the child’s development years later.
A team of scientists at the KU Life Span Institute recently authored a study that showed that pregnant women who consumed a supplement of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a nutrient added to U.S. infant formulas since 2002, tend to have children with higher fat-free body mass at 5 years old. The findings of the experimental study, presented in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggest that improving maternal DHA nutrition has a favorable programming effect on the fetus that influences body composition in early childhood.
“DHA is a nutrient found in the highest concentrations in oily fish such as salmon and tuna, foods many Americans don’t eat a lot of, so they tend to get low intakes,” said Susan Carlson, professor in the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition in the School of Health Professions. “Because U.S. intakes are low and because DHA is highly concentrated in the brain where it increases dramatically in the last trimester of pregnancy and the first two years of life, I have had a long interest in whether more of this nutrient is needed for optimal health during early development. DHA can be delivered to the fetus by increasing maternal intake during pregnancy and to the breast-fed infant by increasing maternal intake during lactation, which increases DHA in mothers’ milk.”
Program: Transition to Post-Secondary Education
When Noah Krueger came to KU in the fall of 2016, one of the first challenges to overcome was learning how the KU bus system worked. Like any KU freshman student unaccustomed to public transit, he struggled at first with figuring out which bus went where and when.
But two years after starting a program for students with intellectual disabilities, he can not only check off success at navigating the bus system, he said. He has completed two years of classes at KU and grown academically and socially – and he can teach other people how to ride the bus, too.
“The bus was a big deal,” Noah said. “But now I’ve learned living on my own, grocery shopping, budgeting, working, and living with friends.”
Noah is just one of the 18 students who are enrolled in or have completed a two-year certificate at KU through the Transition to Postsecondary Education program. Funded through a five-year federal grant to the Life Span Institute in 2015, and in collaboration with the KU School of Education, the program is the only one of its kind in Kansas that combines career development, academics and social skills for students with intellectual disabilities.
The 2019 freshman class in the program have diverse education backgrounds, experiences and interests, including working with children, athletics, musical theater, and interior design.
Feb. 13 6-7:30 pm LEND Family Education Series Talk
"We Are Here!” Siblings as Untapped Resources and Their Unique Needs with Mayumi Hagiwara, Ph.D. and Hannah Black, JD
Edwards Campus, Regnier Hall. Information here.
Feb. 20-21 Workshop for Faculty
Improving/Improvising: A workshop for KU faculty on communicating research to the public. Join us for a workshop for faculty designed to help investigators to communicate their research in a spontaneous and engaging way.
Register here; space limited to 64 KU faculty.
To help faculty gain skills to convey their research and discoveries to the public, the Life Span Institute at the University of Kansas is offering a two-day workshop hosted by experts who blend techniques for communicating research with improvisational theater.
For more than four decades, U.S. children with disabilities have had the right to be educated alongside their nondisabled peers in the classroom. However, although progress has been made in achieving this outcome, far too many students are separated from their peers without disabilities and receive education in segregated settings.