This is a proposal to renew a highly focused predoctoral training program in Neurobehavioral Genetics (NBG). Elucidating the genetic basis of diseases of the nervous system promises to transform our understanding of some of the most prevalent, burdensome, and complex afflictions of humankind. The program bridges several longstanding dichotomies; between nervous system mechanisms and behavior, between neurology and psychiatry/psychology, between diseases and non-disease traits, between humans and model organisms, and between basic and clinical sciences. The training program has thus far successfully achieved such bridging by providing a unified and multidisciplinary training over a 3-year-period to PhD candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, including neuroscience, psychology, human genetics, neuroimaging, and pharmacology, while at the same time providing exposure to clinical issues of strong relevance to mental health. This program is the only training program at UCLA focusing on mammalian or complex genetics, and thus also serves a critical training niche for a large number of students from a variety of primary disciplines. The program emphasizes the importance of systematic delineation and assessment of nervous system phenotypes, including the integration of traditional clinical and cognitive evaluations with recently available phenotyping tools such as neuroimaging and gene expression profiling. A new curriculum element for this renewal is an intensive practical course in big data, emphasizing both the bioinformatics analysis of high-throughput sequencing data and issues involved in large-scale data sharing. This pre-doctoral training program is closely integrated with a recently renewed NINDS post-doctoral NBG training program (T32NS048004). The interactions of pre-doctoral students with postdoctoral fellows and faculty from disciplines that they would ordinarily not interact with in their primary department or program through the shared coursework and seminar series provides a unique training environment for these pre-doctoral candidates. The program gains cohesion through an ongoing neurogenetics seminar series and an annual program retreat. The ambitious goals of the program are achievable because the program faculty is very strong in virtually all of the areas that are relevant to neurobehavioral genetics, and because the faculty members have long embraced, in their research and teaching, the highly integrative and cross-disciplinary approach that is at the heart of the program. For the renewal we are continuing to enhance our efforts to identify and recruit applicants who will add to the diversity of the training program.
This grant is to train the next generation of scientists to conduct genetic studies that will increase our understanding of the causes of neurological and psychiatric diseases and traits related to them. Following this training, PhD and MD, PhD candidates will be uniquely poised to perform the type of team-oriented, multi- disciplinary or translational genetic research that is necessary to forward our understanding and treatment of diseases of brain and behavior, for example, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and neurodegenerative disorders, each of which is a pressing public health concern.
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