The next big step to unlocking new ADHD treatments

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a prevalent childhood mental disorder, affecting five percent of school-aged children worldwide. It is associated with negative lifetime outcomes including poorer educational and occupational attainment, comorbid substance abuse and increased mortality, and is highly heritable.

Large-scale genome-wide association studies have identified replicable statistical associations for a wide variety of psychiatric phenotypes, including ADHD, but they have not and cannot on their own deliver an understanding of how statistically associated DNA variants functionally impact biological systems – and without this knowledge, new medical treatments will remain undiscovered.

Thanks to the recent award of an NHMRC Research Fellowship, MICCN Research Director Professor Mark Bellgrove aims to deliver a system-wide understanding of the biological pathways that mediate genetic risk for ADHD. Focussing on gene systems, cellular systems, brain systems, cognitive systems and behavioural symptoms, this systems neuroscience approach to ADHD has the potential to identify novel biological risk pathways and causative mechanisms that will facilitate the future identification of novel treatment pathways and personalised medicine approaches to ADHD.

“Our program of research will deliver a number of world firsts,“ Professor Bellgrove said. “For example, it will use for the first time cutting-edge stem cell technology to develop a cellular model that can recapitulate the genetic risk for ADHD, allowing a truly integrative neuroscience approach to functionally validating the impact of genetic risk for ADHD on neuronal signalling.”

The team’s work could also lead to discoveries such as: a tool for biological validation of novel drug compounds; novel causative gene discoveries for ADHD, which could lead to new drug discovery; novel insights into ADHD-specific and shared risk phenotypes for psychopathology, leading to a new model of how disease liability contributes to comorbidity in the clinic; and the establishment of new targets for treatment and intervention for a range of different disorders beyond ADHD.

“I’m excited and honoured to have been awarded this NHMRC Research Fellowship. As well as presenting significant research opportunities, it will also help to drive knowledge collaborations with clinicians,” Professor Bellgrove said.

MICCN congratulates Professor Bellgrove on his fantastic achievement and looks forward to seeing the future impact of his work.

For more information on his research, contact Professor Mark Bellgrove at Mark.Bellgrove@monash.edu.

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