Training Program
in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities


Program Director and Co-Directors

Grinspan Lab

Grinspan Lab: Oligodendrocytes making myelin

Michael B. Robinson, PhD is Professor of Pediatrics and the Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and a member of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at CHOP. Dr. Robinson serves as the Principal Investigator/Program Director of the training program. He is also a Co-Director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and Director of the Neuroscience Affinity Group, an umbrella organization for the neuroscientists at CHOP. Dr. Robinson’s research focuses on brain glutamate transport, particularly signaling pathways that regulate this transport, and their relationship to acute brain injury.

Marc Yudkoff, MD is William T. Grant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, and Chief of the Division of Metabolic Disease at CHOP. He serves as a Co-Director of the training program and Director of the IDDRC. Dr. Yudkoff investigates amino acid metabolism in the brain and whole body, focusing on the development of new treatments for child with inborn errors of nitrogen metabolism such as urea cycle defects. He also studies the effects of the high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet – a highly effective therapy for children with epilepsy – on brain amino acid and metabolism.

Gihan Tennekoon, MD is Loeb Professor of Neurology at CHOP and Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and serves as Co-Director of the training program. Dr. Tennekoon was also the Principal Investigator/Program Director of the Neurological Sciences Academic Development Award (NSADA), a K12 grant that supported career development of junior faculty child neurologists.

Program Manager

Robinson Lab

Robinson Lab: An astrocyte situated along a blood vessel in a hippocampal organotypic culture transfected with plasmids encoding a membrane-targeted red fluorescent protein and a green florescent protein targeted to mitochondria.

Kristen Pidgeon, MS provides administrative oversight for the training program as well as the IDDRC. She coordinates all aspects of the training program including: advertising open positions and gathering application materials, assisting trainees with the appointment process and management of training-related and travel funds once appointed, collecting annual progress reports and scheduling meetings for the Steering Committee. She is also responsible for preserving files for each program applicant as well as coordinating the periodic surveys of trainees. Mrs. Pidgeon coordinates and maintains the schedules for the IDDRC Seminar Series, Chalk Talks and Grants Journal Club.

Steering Committee

The Steering Committee consists of Drs. Ted Abel, PhD, Stewart Anderson, MD, David Lynch, MD/PhD, Eric Marsh, MD/PhD, Michael Robinson, PhD, Robert Schultz, PhD, Gihan Tennekoon, MD and Marc Yudkoff, MD. This committee is charged with decisions on admission and retention of trainees/mentors to the program and with resolution of any conflicts that may arise. This group also reviews the program regularly to determine if changes might improve the experience for the trainees.

Internal and External Advisory Committees

Schultz Lab

Schultz Lab: Figure showing regions of CBF differences seen in temporal lobe between children with autism and controls measured using ASL perfusion MRI.

Responsibility for oversight of the training program will rest in part with an Internal and an External Advisory Committee. The Internal Advisory Committee consists of two Penn faculty with strong interest and experience in training of neuroscientists: Irwin Lucki, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and Director of the Penn NIH Institutional Training Program in Neuropsychopharmacology, and Michael Nusbaum, PhD, Director of Biomedical Graduate Studies at Penn. Since the start of the training program, these individuals have provided support to the Program in handling a variety of diverse issues ranging from programmatic planning, responsible conduct of research training and diversity initiatives.

The External Advisory Committee consists of 3 senior investigators with a long experience in intellectual and developmental disabilities research and with mentoring trainees. Joseph T. Coyle, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, is a Child Psychiatrist with a long-standing interest in developmental disabilities. Pat Levitt, PhD, Professor and Director of Zilkha Neurogenetics Institute at USC, has had a long-standing interest in brain development and developmental disabilities. Joseph Piven, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, is interested in defining endophenotypes in autistic individuals and examining the genetics of autism.