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How Can the Impact of ADHD Be Minimised, Ms Roy?

By Jeannette Goddar

Although many children with behavioural disorders grow up to lead a normal life, others never find their place in society. Arunima Roy’s dream is to stop this from happening.

Arunima Roy
Arunima Roy (Photo: Humboldt Foundation / David Spaeth)

Early on in her career, the medical doctor came across a study in which researchers had ascertained that the degree to which children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were resistant to other problems partly depended on how they had grown up. “Whether they grow up in a functioning family, what the mental health status of their parents or their own socio-economic status is – these things all influence what becomes of them,” says Roy. Today, she is searching for epigenetic changes that could lie behind this resilience – also to other psychiatric disorders. These processes are thought to be factors in the emergence of psychiatric illnesses. A core idea of epigenetics is that little chemical compounds, known as methyl groups, attach to DNA building blocks and turn off certain genes, thus affecting their impact. 

Roy is evaluating blood samples collected during a longitudinal study conducted in Estonia. From 1998 to 2016, some 1,000 people underwent comprehensive psychological assessment and were tested on their cognitive abilities at four points in time from the age of nine or fifteen. She hopes to discover a correlation between psychological disorders and changes in DNA methylation from which to derive an epigenetic biomarker. This would mean children could be tested at an early age to determine how susceptible they would be to later problems. “Ideally, targeted psychiatric help could be offered really early,” explains Roy.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 109/2018

Dr Arunima Roy from India is a Humboldt Research Fellow at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg.