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Uncovering the biological basis of ADHD and autism

A major new research project launched this week aims to uncover the biological basis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience is one of 21 member institutions across 10 countries to receive funding from the European Commission totalling €3.9 million. 

The MiND (Mastering skills in the training Network for attention deficit hyperactivity and autism spectrum Disorders) project, involving an interdisciplinary pan-European team of scientists and PhD students, aims to make major advancements in our understanding of the risk factors underlying both ADHD and ASD. It is hoped that these findings will lead to better diagnosis and more personalised treatments.

ADHD and ASD are chronic and highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorders. ADHD affects around 5 per cent of children and 2.5 per cent of adults, and ASD impacts around 1 per cent of children and adults. However, progress in understanding the biological basis of these disorders has been slow and insufficient treatment options are available.

Dr Jonna Kuntsi, from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the IoPPN, will lead research exploring novel biomarkers and treatment targets that could hold promise for the development of innovative interventions, and for improving the prediction of clinical outcomes. 

Professor Philip Asherson, also from the SGDP Centre, will examine the overlap between cognitive processes involved in ADHD and ASD, including visual attention, decision-making and memory, as well as the overlap in clinical symptoms between the two disorders.

Dr Kuntsi said: ‘We are excited to be part of this large, collaborative project that holds much promise scientifically, clinically and in terms of the in-depth training provided to the junior scientists. While the SGDP Centre has a long history in research on both ADHD and ASD, by joining forces with other leading research institutions we can combine expertise across many specialist areas, maximising the opportunities for research innovation.’

MiND combines an interdisciplinary team including neurobiologists, geneticists, physicians and psychologists to investigate the disorders at levels from molecular through neurobiological and neural systems, to cognitive and behavioural.   

It will educate a new generation of scientists who are trained in areas of neuropsychiatry and psychology, human genetics, bioinformatics as well as working in international collaborations. Training with industry is also an essential requirement for this new generation of scientists, which will help to enhance translation of findings from bench to bedside. 

For further information visit the project website or contact Dr Jonna Kuntsi.