In recent years, scientists have been working on targeted cancer treatments. These medications work on the genetic level, targeting genes that are specific to defects or malfunctions that can lead to the development or spread of cancer. Now scientists believe they are one step closer to creating that type of treatment for ADHD.
A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in December 2016 looked at the genetics behind ADHD in an “effort to address limitations of existing ADHD medications that don’t work for all patients” according to Ariel Martinez, M.D., one of the lead authors of the study. He hopes that by specifically targeting the gene responsible for many ADHD symptoms, medication will help more people.
Researchers already knew that the gene ADGRL3 is connected to ADHD. Previous studies found that variants of this gene predisposed people to developing ADHD and could even predict the severity of the disorder. In the 2016 study, researchers looked at the ADGRL3 genome region in 838 people, 372 of whom were diagnosed with ADHD. Variants within one segment of these genes was associated with ADHD and other conditions which often coexist with it, such as substance abuse and disruptive disorders. The scientists also analyzed postmortem brain tissue from 137 people and found malfunctions in this segment of the gene also corresponded to dysfunction in the thalamus, a region of the brain that is involved in sensory processing, alertness, motor skills and symptoms of ADHD, such as impulsivity and inattention.
Dr. Martinez explains that precision medicines, those which target specific genes, are possible when you can find genetic combinations that are common within a group of people with the condition. But he hopes that this research might lead to development of a medication that targets the protein encoded by the ADGRL3 gene, giving more choices to people who have found that stimulant and other traditional ADHD medications don’t help in reducing their symptoms.
The study of pharmacogenomics combines the study of medication and the study of genes. Studies such as this one hoped to use genomics to find new treatments. But this new field of science can also help determine which medications work best for an individual. Often, people with ADHD go through a period of trial and error to discover which medication and what dosage works best for them. In the future, pharmacogenomics might help. A study completed in 2012 looked at whether this science could help to determine which medication would be best, based on genetics. Scientists haven’t found the answer yet, but as this field of study continues to grow and our knowledge of genomics increases, treating ADHD won’t be as much of a mystery in the future as it is today.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.