Detective Work Wins the Day

Interview with IdeaConnection Problem Solver T Grant Belgard
By Paul Arnold
T Grant Belgard is a postdoctoral fellow in the Geschwind Lab at UCLA. His research focuses on functional patterning and evolution of gene expression in the brain, and its disruption in neurodevelopmental disorders.

photo of T. Grant BelgardAs a problem solver he received a financial reward for conducting a successful prior art citation search for one of IdeaConnection's clients.

In this interview he talks briefly about his work as a scientist and takes us through the research avenues he went down to locate the prior art.

There was a prior art search for prior art related to a patent that had been issued. It was certainly outside of my field in the sense that it was an agricultural transgenic organism patent, but I’ve always liked finding obscure pieces of information and connecting the dots between things.

How did you set about the task?

First I carried out a general literature search and found a paper published in Science. However, in a prior art search they need a public disclosure prior to a certain date, and this paper was well after the date. But I was interested to see what was there before the paper was published.

You know, science research projects take many years and there can be conferences, presentations, and so on. If you are challenging a patent there needs to be evidence of a disclosure, so you might have an abstract from a conference. I did find abstracts that hinted at prior public disclosure, but these didn’t give enough details to be definitive.

However, I found a paper, and in its acknowledgement section, the authors acknowledged a grant number. So I searched for that grant number and found a report which I believe was to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) giving an update on what was being done with the money.

The report didn’t give enough detail, but it did cite a master’s thesis. Something like a master’s thesis is deposited in a public university library and can be requested by any academic. It is considered to be a public disclosure.
I submitted everything I had at that point to IdeaConnection, and their expert wrote back saying that what I had was very useful, but didn’t hit the nail on the head quite yet. What would be really useful would be the master’s thesis.
So I requested the thesis and that was it. I was awarded $6,666.00.

It sounds like a neat piece of detective work.

For me at least, having a professional background in science was helpful. I understand how the funding and publication system works, and how people go out and give presentations at conferences, as well as knowing how to find these conferences. Even though I am not a plant geneticist, I am a geneticist. So that was helpful to read the paper and understand how things connected, and to know which search terms to use.

Let’s talk a little about your work as a scientist.

A lot of my work in graduate school was focused on more theoretical and fundamental questions about evolution. It was a lot of fun, but I really wanted to work on something that could have more of a practical impact.

Something like autism which is what I am working on now I find interesting because it affects some very fundamental circuits. It affects social interactions and communications, and language is one of the core aspects of being human. As someone with an interest in evolution this is very interesting, and it will have a practical impact on things.

What are you looking at?

I’m looking at how gene expression is different in people with autism, basically by using something called network analysis to find subtle neurological differences that might be difficult to find in a traditional histopathological approach.

I’m working on 15q duplication syndrome, a duplication in one region of a section of chromosome 15 that results in a number of health and development problems. A lot of children with 15q will have autism.

We hope that by looking at the subtypes of autism we might be able to understand various roads to autism.

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