Doctoral student training program in movement disorders research receives renewal

2020 trainees
The 2020 trainees include (top row, from left) Sidney Baudendistel, Adithya Gopinath, Franjo Ivankovic, (bottom row, from left) Noelle Jacobsen, Francesca Lopez and Doug Miller.

By Jill Pease

A T32 training program that prepares University of Florida Ph.D. students for research careers in movement disorders has received five-year funding renewal from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The UF Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Training in Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration program trains doctoral students to become independent researchers whose work will lead to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, tremor and ataxia.

“We have broadened the diverse training that students experience by granting them training to other areas of movement disorders and neuroscience that they would not receive in their own Ph.D. program,” said David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., a professor of applied physiology and kinesiology at the College of Health and Human Performance, and one of the directors of the program along with Dawn Bowers, Ph.D., a professor of clinical and health psychology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions. Both are members of UF’s McKnight Brain Institute.

The program is designed to give trainees a solid foundation in research methodology and data presentation and increase interaction between trainees from clinical and basic science backgrounds.

“My inclusion on the T32 has been nothing short of transformative,” said former trainee Joe Lebowitz, a recent Ph.D. in neuroscience graduate who is currently conducting a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oregon. “The ability to interface with clinicians and peers working in translational and clinical neuroscience has helped me better contextualize and design in vitro and ex vivo basic research experiments.”

The training program has added key features with renewal, including increasing the number of trainee spots from four to six; adding Zhigang Li, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF department of biostatistics, to the team; and offering advanced training in skills development and rigor and reproducibility.

“Over the past five years, our trainees have represented vibrant, diverse students with unique and varying approaches to research in movement disorders — genetic, molecular and translational,” Bowers said. “Based on their feedback, we have more than met the key training emphasis of our unique program, namely, contextualizing their research and setting the stage for team science moving forward.”

Co-investigators of the training program include Todd Golde, M.D., Ph.D., director of the McKnight Brain Institute; Michael S. Okun, M.D., chair of neurology; and Habibeh Khoshbouei, Ph.D., Pharm.D., a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry.