Shamrocks aren’t the only green growing in Ireland

11-08-2013

Last month I visited Dublin, Ireland, where, with my Michigan State colleagues, I met with our partners in an extraordinary research-based initiative focused on autism and other intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Photo of LouAnna K Simon
President Simon addresses DOCTRID partners in Dublin, Ireland.

Called the Daughters of Charity Technology and Research for Intellectual Disability (DOCTRID) program, it harnesses the knowledge assets of MSU; the Dublin-based Daughters of Charity Service and its fundraising arm, RESPECT; eight Irish universities; the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland; and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Initiated in 2010, DOCTRID is an international research collaborative aiming to improve technologies, practices, and policies for the benefit of people with intellectual disabilities. The initiative prompted MSU to align its own set of research resources and to fund a fellowship program to support three researchers located both on campus and in Ireland.

It’s an exciting initiative that perfectly models the MSU method of knowledge discovery and application with partners on the ground, cocreating solutions to complicated problems. Part of the MSU land-grant model is based on the understanding that solving problems in one place gives us a foundation to apply it anywhere else, including our own backyard. As vast as our own capabilities are in many disciplines, the most challenging and complicated problems require collaborative solutions, and the DOCTRID program proves once again the value of scientific investigation conducted in multiple cultural contexts.

Photo of Ian Gray
Ian Gray, former MSU vice president for research and graduate studies, speaks at the DOCTRID conference.


Autism and other intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities are persistent, multifaceted, global problems—which puts them right in Michigan State’s wheelhouse. We have identified more than three dozen MSU faculty members with relevant research expertise—from pediatrics, neuroscience, genetics, and psychology to biomechanics, interactive media, computer engineering, and music. Those researchers have been folded into our new Research in Autism, Intellectual and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND) initiative, which focuses on the entire age continuum and the entire functional spectrum of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Now we’re ready to work with colleagues in Ireland who themselves bring an impressive range of assets to the mission and with an organization, the Daughters of Charity, that has substantial service experience of its own. It’s the outcome of a relationship formed in the 1980s between MSU professor Michael Leahy and a standout doctoral student, Sister Martha Hegarty. She eventually became director of RESPECT and started building the DOCTRID program before her death last year.

Leahy, director of the MSU Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, is MSU’s principal investigator for the DOCTRID International Research Institute at MSU and oversees the fellowship program named in Hegarty’s honor. He also is codirector of RAIND with Nigel Paneth, University Distinguished Professor of epidemiology and biostatistics.

Photo of Michael Leahy and Brian Harvey
MSU’s Michael Leahy, right, listens to conference presentations with his counterpart, Brian Harvey, DOCTRID director of research.


Last spring, DOCTRID recorded a major endorsement when it was awarded an $11.3 million Marie Curie COFUND grant from the European Union to fund 40 additional postdoctoral researchers for the partner universities. We anticipate five to eight of these postdoctoral researchers will come to MSU.

Michigan State isn’t new to Ireland. We’ve worked there for many years with exchange and study abroad programs, one of which Professor Leahy created for his students with disabilities. We also have many connections forged in research programs, often focused on agriculture and food science.

The DOCTRID program represents an exciting collaboration around which we can align some of our research assets for maximum effect and benefit. Those we serve deserve nothing less.

Photos contributed by Paul Sherwood/DOCTRID

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