About the Life Span Institute

About the Life Span Institute

University of Kansas autism researcher Rene Jamison with a mother and her son

60 years of Discoveries 

The KU Life Span Institute brings together researchers 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. We work toward interventions and independence for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We seek the causes of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder.  We research solutions to attain equity in the classroom, treat addiction, reduce childhood obesity and more to ensure a healthy, prospering communities. In addition to this internationally-renowned research program, thousands of people benefit from the direct services, training and consultations provided by the KU Life Span Institute and its research centers.

The Life Span Institute includes 12 affiliated research centers and an affiliate in Peru. It is organized around a central office that provides research, finance, technology and communications support to more than 100 investigators. 


Most of the easy problems in the behavioral and biological sciences have been solved. Today the important problems are increasingly found and solved at the intersection of many disciplines. The Life Span Institute stands at such a convergence. Our mission is to discover knowledge about human health and development. This mission can only be achieved by problem-driven collaborations across many disciplines.


Friends of the Life Span Institute

The Friends of the Life Span Institute was founded in 2004 to further our collective impact on the problems of health and human development, disabilities and aging. The development group supports the Friends of the Life Span Investigator and GRA awards.


John Colombo, professor of psychology, is director of the Life Span Institute. He also serves as the director and principal investigator of the University of Kansas Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center.

The Life Span Institute together more than 130 scientists who are affiliated with several academic departments to study human development from its genetic origins to the final stages of life through more than 100 research projects.

These investigators are supported by almost 200 research and administrative staff members, including close to 50 graduate research assistants. Life Span Institute affiliated scientists are recognized not only by competitive funding, but by their academic peers and constituent professional groups with honors and awards each year. They serve in administrative leadership positions at the university and in their fields. They are also called on to testify and consult on public policy issues. Several principal investigators consult with business and industry as well.


The Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies (Life Span Institute) was established in 1990, when the distinguished 67-year-old Kansas Bureau of Child Research joined with the Gerontology Center and other new research groups to form one of the premier research institutes in the nation on human and community development, disabilities and aging. The Bureau was directed for 35 years by Richard L. Schiefelbusch for whom the Institute is named. His appointment to lead the Bureau in 1956 was the beginning of its modern era.

The Institute has had three directors: Stephen R. Schroeder, from 1990 until his retirement in 2001, Steven F. Warren, from 2000 to March 2008, when he was appointed vice provost for research and graduate studies at the University of Kansas, and John Colombo, who became the Institute’s third director in September 2008.


The Life Span Institute attracts more combined federal, state and private dollars than any other designated research center at the University of Kansas, drawing $28.2 million in sponsored project support in FY 2016. Each state dollar brought in $7.77 external dollars in FY 2016.


Administrative and Research Locations

The Institute’s central office is in the Robert Dole Human Development Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence with components at the John T. Stewart Children’s Center and Malott Hall.

The Institute also operates in Kansas City at the Children’s Campus of Kansas City (Juniper Gardens Children’s Project) at the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Robert E. Hemenway Life Sciences Innovation Center and Center for Child Health and Development and at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus (Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training). A major center is also located at the Life Span Institute in Parsons, Kansas.

Much of the work of the Institute is accomplished in and directly benefits underserved Kansas City neighborhoods and rural Kansas counties. Several projects are collaborations with researchers in other parts of the state, region, country and world and are regional, national or international in scope.


More information about Life Span Institute research, people and achievements can be found in our news section

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Browse Life Span Institute annual reports to read about significant research findings, metrics, and details about the activities of the 12 affiliated centers and Peruvian affiliate.