Researchers aim to understand COVID-19 in children with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Oct. 6, 2021

Researchers at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester are working to better understand how COVID-19 impacts student and staff in schools that serve students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The $4 million project, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP), will allow researchers to work with students and staff at the Mary Cariola Center School in Rochester, to study how COVID-19 spreads in the vulnerable population the agency serves.

“Understanding how to best test this population and how COVID spreads in group settings is imperative to keeping those with an IDD safe,” John Foxe, Ph.D., Director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, and co-principal investigator of the study. “Ultimately, this study will have major implications for schools across the United States and specifically for schools that serve vulnerable students. This funding continues a well-establish collaboration with Mary Cariola Center and will help keep their population, many of which are too young to be vaccinated, safe from COVID.”

John Foxe, Ph.D., announces study at Mary Cariola Center during press conference.
John Foxe, Ph.D., announces study at Mary Cariola Center during press conference.

Foxe is one of three principal investigators leading this study. Martin Zand, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of Clinical & Translational Science Institute and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Research at the Medical Center, and Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, are also principal investigators.

According to the NIH, a non-vaccinated person with intellectual and developmental disabilities is four-times more likely to contract COVID-19 and eight-times more likely to die from the virus than someone without an IDD. It is also a population that is difficult to test with effective procedures. This study will allow researchers to rapidly identify initial infections, antigen levels, and through isolating and contact-tracing, stop the spread of infection in school settings.

“COVID-19 poses a considerable threat to our students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as medical complexities,” said Karen Zandi, LCSW-R, President/CEO of Mary Cariola Center. “This partnership will provide crucial insight into this deadly virus and will allow us to update, revise, and create best practices beyond what we are currently doing. Ultimately, it means we will be able to keep our students and staff healthy and provide peace-of-mind to their families, while providing important research data to help schools in general and other schools like ours.”

“Individuals living with intellectual developmental disabilities remain disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we cannot leave them behind as we build toward our recovery,” said Rep. Joe Morelle. “With this study, we will be able to better combat the virus and deliver the outcomes IDD individuals across our nation and their families deserve. Thank you to the Mary Cariola Center and the University of Rochester for the incredible work you have already completed in this space and will continue to do to uplift our entire community.”

In addition to researchers testing on all three Mary Cariola School campuses, they will also utilize a dedicated vehicle to travel between the school and students' homes to test and track anyone who tests positive.

Last spring, the NIH designated the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience as one of 16 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers in the county.