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Medical Research Council appoints Birkbeck academic to lead major research project about ADHD

The research will aim to understand early development in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

In the foreground a toddler wears an electronic headset and smiles, while in the background a woman, Professor Emily Jones, smiles at them.
Professor Emily Jones working with a toddler

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has awarded £2.4million in funding to three studies which aim to provide a better understanding of ADHD, particularly focusing on how the condition progresses over time.

Among the recipients of the funding is Birkbeck's Professor Emily Jones, Professor of Translational Neurodevelopment, who will lead a project entitled 'Understanding early causal pathways in ADHD: can early-emerging atypicalities in activity and affect cause later-emerging difficulties in attention', alongside Professor Sam Wass, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist at the University of East London.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that is usually diagnosed in children and can cause restlessness, difficulty concentrating and impulsive behaviour. Sometimes, and especially in girls, the symptoms can go unnoticed until much later in life. If left untreated, the condition can lead to difficulties for some people, increasing their risk of anxiety and depression, and impacting on their relationships, career and even life-expectancy.

The better understanding of ADHD gained from the MRC-funded projects - which will include how the condition specifically affects women, its relationship with subsequent depression and the impact of the parental response in early years - will help to identify more people at risk. This will enable clinicians to offer interventions at an earlier stage to help people with ADHD manage their condition more effectively.

Professor Jones explained about her project: "This study will examine whether increased activity levels and signs of emotional distress in infants who go onto to develop ADHD can impact real-world interactions - notably between the child and their parent - and whether differing parental responses to the infant's activity and emotions could change the impact of ADHD on learning in later life.

"The project will work with infants with and without a family history of ADHD and combine data collected using cutting edge real-time methods with a new analysis of existing data from older children. The new data will be collected at home and in Birkbeck's purpose built ToddlerLab, which will use motion tracking, facial recognition and wireless wearable neuroimaging to measure brain activity during natural play.

"We will also test whether we can use our new knowledge to support parents and their infants, which would be wonderful."

The other research projects in receipt of the MRC funding are: 'A life course approach to understand ADHD in women', led by Dr Jessica Agnew-Blais at Queen Mary, University of London and 'How and why does ADHD lead to depression in young people?', led by Dr Lucy Riglin at Cardiff University.

Dr Joanna Latimer, Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health at the MRC, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), said: "Previous research has shown that intervening at an early stage is crucial. If ADHD is correctly diagnosed and treated, the negative impacts that it can lead to in some circumstances will be greatly reduced.

"Our hope is that these projects will mean a greater number of people can be offered evidence-based interventions at the right time, so that the condition does not hold children and young adults back from reaching their potential."

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