Our History


Over the past 50 years, the Boston Children’s Hospital IDDRC has grown to encompass 72 investigators from 15 Departments and Divisions based in 5 Harvard-affiliated institutions comprising the Harvard-Longwood Medical Area. The Center currently supports a total of 113 projects. Our center began with the awarding of a construction grant from the NICHD in 1967 and Core Implementation Program Funds in 1968. A parallel program of training and patient care in developmental disabilities developed with the establishment of the University-Affiliated Program (UAP) at the Hospital, and this close relation of the Center and its UAP has continued ever since. The Boston Children’s Hospital IDDRC (originally known as the MRRC and later the MRRDDC) served as the driving force for the institution’s original Enders Pediatric Research Facility at Children’s Hospital.

Center investigators now occupy over 100,000 square feet of space in three BCH science buildings (the Enders Building, the Karp Research Building, and the Center for Life Sciences), the adjacent Harvard Institutes of Medicine, the Dana Farber Cancer Center, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School


Harvard Medical School

history-photo-17.jpgOn September 19, 1782, the president and fellows of Harvard College undertook plans for a medical school. With a handful of students and a faculty of three, classes at the Medical School began in Harvard Hall in the College yard, and later were transferred to Holden Hall, originally the College Chapel. The Medical School moved from Cambridge to Boston in 1810, and has been there ever since. In 1906, the Medical School moved to Longwood Avenue in Boston, and the five marble-faced buildings that compose the Quadrangle were dedicated. The Medical School currently has six basic science departments: Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Neurobiology, Pathology; two social science departments: Health Care Policy and Social Medicine; and a clinical department; Ambulatory Care and Prevention. Harvard Medical School has 18 affiliates, where most of the clinical training for internals, residents, and medical students occurs. The affiliates include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Cambridge Hospital, Center for Blood Research, Children’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center, Judge Baker Children’s Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, McLean Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, New England Regional Primate Center, Schepen’s Eye Research Institute, Spauldling Rehabilitation Hospital, and Veterans Administration Medical Center.

For over two centuries Harvard Medical School has been a major participant in the effort to understand life, to cure and prevent disease, and to reduce the burden of human illness. The School is a place of ‘firsts’ . Since the introduction of the small pox vaccination to American in 1799 by Professor Edward Jenner, Harvard Medical School faculty have discovered, innovated, and made giant steps toward improving human health and medical practice. The first introduction of insulin to the U.S. was made by Harvard Medical School researchers. The iron lung was invented for polio patients; then work on the polio virus, done at the Medical School, paved the way for vaccines against polio, and made the iron lung obsolete. Other innovations include mapping the visual system of the brain, development of the external cardiac pacemaker, development of artificial skin, the first successful kidney transplant, initial use of direct electric current to restore the rhythm of the heart, and discovery (by Dr. Louis Kunkel, our Associate Director) of the gene that causes Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

History and Leadership of the Children’s Hospital Boston Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center

history-photo-13.jpghistory-photo-12.jpgThe foundation for a formal program of research focused on intellectual and developmental disabilities began with the seminal work of Dr. Bronson Crothers, who was recruited in 1920 to lead the newly established Neurology Service at Children’s Hospital. In the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Crothers continued his strong interest in the causes, classification, and management of cerebral palsy, and wrote a series of papers and later a classic monograph on some 1800 individuals with cerebral palsy he had examined between 1930 and 1950. Their childhood, and in many cases their early adult life, was closely scrutinized in order to explain and illustrate the ways in which the relevant types of rain disorder affect growth and development. In the early 50s, Crothers’ colleague of 20 years, Dr. Randolph Byers, assumed the leadership role. Like his predecessor, Byers’ accomplishments were groundbreaking. He was the first to clearly define the acute and chronic conditions observed in infants and children exposed to lead. His studies on inflammatory disorders of the central nervous system, among others, form the basis for much of our current clinical understanding.

history-photo-10.jpghistory-photo-11.jpgIn 1963, Dr. Charles Barlow was named Neurologist-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital Boston and Bronson Crothers Chair. During Dr. Barlow’s subsequent 27-year tenure, a program in basic neuroscience, in the context of the Children’s Hospital Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, was established. A new research building, the first component of the now expanded Enders Pediatric Research Facility, was built, in part to house the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center. In 1990, Dr. Joseph Volpe was named the successor to Dr. Barlow as the Bronson Crothers Professor at Harvard Medical School and Neurologist-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital.

history-photo-9.jpghistory-photo-8.jpgThe new millennium has brought with it two new Center Directors. Dr. Michael Greenberg led the Center and its Basic Neuroscience program from the time of Dr. Volpe’s retirement in 2005 until his appointment in 2009 as the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor and Chair of the Harvard Medical School Neurobiology Department at Harvard Medical School. In February of 2010, Dr. Scott Pomeroy, who succeeded Dr. Volpe as the Bronson Crothers Professor at Harvard Medical School and Neurologist-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital in 2005, was named our new Center Director in February of 2010. 

Scientific Leadership

history-photo-6.jpghistory-photo-7.jpgDr. Volpe’s tenure was characterized by a major elaboration of both clinical and basic research programs supported by the IDDRC’s Core facilities and a constant striving to keep the Cores themselves at the forefront of new technologies. When Dr. Scott Pomeroy assumed leadership of the Center’s Clinical Neuroscience Program at the time of Dr. Volpe’s retirement in 2005, he added a major emphasis on translational neuroscience efforts, preparing the way for clinical trials targeting mechanisms of disease in children with disorders of the developing nervous system.   

history-photo-4.jpghistory-photo-5.jpgThe Center’s Program in Genetics was originally headed by Dr. Samuel Latt, whose work in the 80’s served as the model for setting up the governmental resource of libraries for all of the human chromosomes. Since his untimely passing in 1986, the program has been led with great distinction by Dr. Louis Kunkel, elected to the National Academy of Sciences at the age of 32 and a world leader in his field.

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Our Basic Neuroscience Program Director in the 1970’s and 1980’s was Dr. Richard Sidman, one of the most distinguished neuroscientists of his generation.  Dr. Michael Greenberg, one of the leading molecular neurobiologists of the modern era, assumed this role in 1994 and led the Center’s Basic Neuroscience Program from 2004 until 2010. Under his leadership, the Basic Neuroscience Program reached important new levels of achievement, setting the stage for an exciting future of ever-accelerating progress on all fronts of the Center. In February of 2010, Dr. Clifford Woolf succeeded Dr. Greenberg as the FM Kirby Director of Neurobiology at Children’s Hospital and Director of the IDDRC’s Basic Neuroscience Program.  Dr. Woolf’s own research program is a dynamic mix of basic and translational research involving the study of how the functional, chemical and structural plasticity of neurons contributes both to the normal function and diseases of the nervous system. A true translational neuroscientist, Dr. Woolf works closely with many academic groups and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry to identify and validate molecular targets for new therapies.