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 Tuesday, September 25, 2007 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Institute Spotlight: Institute for Behavioral Genetics
By Corey H. Jones, junior, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Encompassing a strong source of vitality, the institutes at CU-Boulder foster highly specialized environments while creating exclusive and exciting educational experiences for faculty and students. In this series, we survey these integral units that seek to support a wide range of research endeavors and address important, real-world concerns. Part one of this series features the Institute for Behavioral Genetics (IBG).

Since its inception at CU in 1967, the Institute for Behavioral Genetics has polished the art of collaborating.

As an organized research unit of the Graduate School, IBG conducts and facilitates research to examine the genetic bases of individual differences in behavior. Throughout its history, the breadth of IBG's interdisciplinary research and training programs has firmly characterized the institute.

IBG aims to understand how genes influence behavior in a number of different areas, including addiction, learning disabilities, reading problems, cognitive abilities and aging, said Director John Hewitt.

"The institutes foster multidisciplinary research, making it much easier for research to be done across traditional academic disciplinary boundaries at CU," Hewitt said. "In our case, putting psychology together with genetics does not seem strange now, but it did 40 years ago."

IBG consists of 28 faculty fellows from various backgrounds, including ecology and evolutionary biology, integrative physiology and psychology. The faculty also includes representation from the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center and the University of Denver.

The multidisciplinary approach allows IBG to draw from many different perspectives, Hewitt said.

The research unit also facilitates two large centers that involve cross-campus and multidisciplinary efforts: the Center for Antisocial Drug Dependence and the Learning Disabilities Research Center.

Recently, IBG began collaborating with other institutes across the CU-Boulder campus as well, including the Institute of Behavioral Science and the Institute of Cognitive Science.

The institute is also comprised of over 15 graduate students participating in the training program as well as postdoctoral fellows, research associates, professional research assistants and additional personnel.

Although IBG does not offer its own PhD, it grants graduate students a certificate to accompany the doctorate earned within a student's academic department.

Now in her third year as a graduate student with IBG, Isabel Schlaepfer currently studies the molecular aspects of addiction and substance abuse. She researches how specific changes in subunits are related to the cellular changes, pathway changes and behavioral changes that cause people to find, crave and continue to use drugs, she said.

"It is about getting down to the molecular mechanisms inside the cell and the changes and variations that we find in genes," Schlaepfer said. "Eventually, the big picture will show an effect on behavior."

Hewitt believes a significant part of IBG's future research will deal with addiction and anticipates that the institute will play a key role in the area.

"I think one of our biggest contributions in the future will be revealing how genes contribute to the process of addiction and vulnerability to addiction," he said. "It would be nice to think that at some point the findings we generate would lead to ways of preventing and alleviating addiction."

There are approximately 62 research projects that are funded through the institute. IBG administers about $57 million in total grant dollars, approximately $12 million per fiscal year. About 85 percent comes from the National Institutes of Health.

"There are people who question if genes really have anything to do with behavior," Schlaepfer said. "An important aspect of IBG is communicating to the community that genes may not determine who you will be or what you will do, but they do offer insight. People need to be aware that genes do in fact have something to do with how we behave."


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