New Research Collaborative to Focus on Autism, ADHD

A new research network will pool resources in hopes of developing more effective methods to diagnose and treat developmental disabilities in children.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has announced it will house the Network Coordinating Center for the Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics Research Network, a newly established collaborative organization that seeks to address “unmet needs in the field of developmental disabilities.”

Launched this year with a three-year, $200,000 per year grant from the federal government's Maternal Child Health Bureau, the Network brings together experts from 12 leading pediatric programs to focus on a broad range of neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and intellectual disability, a condition formerly referred to as mental retardation that affects an estimated 2-3% of children.

"These conditions are highly challenging to families, educational systems and caregivers," said Nathan J. Blum, MD, director of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) Program at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in a press release. "Two of our largest challenges are how to best individualize treatments to our patients, and how to develop more effective interventions for these conditions."

Even for the most effective treatments, such as using stimulant medication for ADHD, a significant number of patients do not respond well to existing treatments, said Blum. For many other developmental disorders, treatments remain to be developed or adequately evaluated.

By fostering collaboration among leading clinical and research programs, he added, the Network will be able to sponsor multi-site studies in many patients to provide a large enough sample size to properly evaluate new treatments as they are developed.

The Network will also provide opportunities to make use of recent advances in genetics and neuroimaging, as applied to neurodevelopmental disorders. As those technologies may lead to better diagnostic tools, they offer the potential of earlier diagnosis and possibly earlier interventions. In particular, genetic studies such as those conducted at Children's Hospital's Center for Applied Genomics and other facilities are identifying biochemical pathways that are altered in neurodevelopmental conditions.

"We expect that greater knowledge of these biological pathways will allow scientists to develop drugs to target specific disabilities and potentially reverse learning deficits," said Blum. "Having a developmental-pediatrics research network will provide greater opportunities to investigate the effectiveness of new drug candidates, and more rapidly translate basic science findings into eventual clinical treatments."

In its initial stages, said Blum, the new Network will develop the infrastructure to build itself, will agree on a research agenda, will standardize data collection from its member sites, and will initiate smaller projects to share data. The Network Coordinating Center, based at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, will organize the Network's central administrative functions. The Network will then select and implement new research studies.

Other members of the Network are Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Boston University Medical Center, Children's Hospital Boston, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Hasbro Children's Hospital, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, the University of Arkansas Medical Center, the University of California at Davis MIND Institute, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital.

For more information:

  • The Pediatrics Research Consortium (PeRC)
  • Disturbing Findings among Girls with Autism and ADHD Symptoms
  • Improving Aggression Treatment in Children with ADHD

Do you think that establishing a research collaborative will facilitate the process of developing new treatments for disorders like ADHD and autism? If not, what barriers do you think might exist?