University of South Carolina

$28 million disability research center established

By Matt Splett,, 803-216-3302

A University of South Carolina School of Medicine researcher is the recipient of a Centers for Disease Control grant that may have a long-lasting impact on the one in 10 Americans living with a severe disability.

Suzanne McDermott, professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, will lead the five-year grant that establishes the Disability Research and Dissemination Center (DRDC) at USC. The center will coordinate research and fellowships for the CDC’s National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD).

McDermott is collaborating with Margaret Turk, professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Pediatrics at State University of New York Upstate Medical University, and Roberta Carlin, executive director of the American Association on Health and Disability, in leading the DRDC. The center has the potential to bring in more than $28 million in funding to support disability research in the next five years.

“We will be the funnel by which extramural research will be funded,” McDermott said. “We’ll solicit for research, conduct the reviews of proposals and then make recommendations to the CDC for funding. Our work will have a significant impact on the future of research related to both the prevention of disabilities such as birth defects, blood disorders and neurodevelopmental conditions and the lifetime health experience of people who have these disabilities.”

By establishing the DRDC, McDermott and her colleagues aim to expand the NCBDDD’s capacity to conduct research and training as well as share knowledge about evidence-based practices that promote the health and well-being of people with disabilities.

Potential areas of research include the causes of birth defects and developmental disabilities; blood disorders such as hemophilia and sickle cell disease; and health risks to children early in life. 

“This CDC grant for the creation of the DRDC is a testament to Suzanne’s outstanding research in this area, as well as the strong partnerships she has built with researchers at other institutions,” said Prakash Nagarkatti, vice president for research at the University of South Carolina. “The DRDC represents an exciting new chapter in disability research, which will greatly benefit USC’s School of Medicine and its partner universities, the medical community and most importantly, those with disabilities.”

“Dr. McDermott is an accomplished researcher who has continually demonstrated throughout her career a commitment to improving the quality of life for people with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities,” said Richard Hoppmann, dean of the USC School of Medicine. “With this CDC grant, she and her colleagues have a great opportunity to shape the direction of disability research in the years to come.”

A 15-member advisory group of leading physicians and researchers from institutions throughout the United States will review funding proposals sent to the USC center. In addition, DRDC is partnering with national organizations such as the Association of Medical Colleges, the Associations of Schools of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association to promote requests for proposal.

“Our external advisory committee consists of the top people in the field, and we have partnerships with the pivotal organizations that represent scholars in our field, and that is how you accomplish things,” McDermott said. “This center has an opportunity to really influence the future direction of disability research.”

McDermott’s interest in DRDC originates from 23 years of research related to birth defects and the lives of people with disabilities. She has studied the causes of birth defects during pregnancy and identified factors that lead to the prevention of these conditions. A study she led on infections during pregnancy has become an important element of evidence-based prenatal care. Her research on soil metal concentrations led to the discovery that contaminated soil proximate to an expectant mother’s home is a predictor of poor outcomes for the baby.

The CDC has funded several of McDermott’s research projects related to life experiences for people with disabilities. Her current research includes examining the transition of pediatric patients to adulthood who have health issues associated with spina bifida, fragile X syndrome and muscular dystrophy.

In addition to the research potential, McDermott recognizes the establishment of the DRDC at the USC School of Medicine and partner universities could lead to improved professional education for physicians and other health professionals treating disability patients. Enhanced training, including fellowships with the CDC, could lead to improvements in public health practice.

“Disability is an important part of medicine,” McDermott said. “It affects every doctor in every practice no matter whether it is an ophthalmologist or an anesthesiologist. It’s important that health professionals know what conditions are associated with disabilities and how to prevent them. If we can prevent some disabilities, we’ll have a healthier population and that’s true for our state and every state.”

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Posted: 10/03/12 @ 8:30 AM | Updated: 10/03/12 @ 1:26 PM | Permalink