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Researcher wins grant to study causes of ADHD, autism

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Yanli Zhang-James, M.D., Ph.D., a research assistant professor of psychiatry at Upstate Medical University, has been awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant to further studies into the field of child mental health.

Zhang-James will use the two-year $60,000 grant to expand her research into the genetic mechanisms of child psychiatric disorders, such as attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and autism. Although ADHD and autism are two entirely different disorders, the symptoms are often both evident in many affected children. Zhang-James is researching a novel risk gene, SLC9A9, for both ADHD and autism.

"The shared genetic variants are unique windows that can lead us to understanding of some common mechanisms underlying the pathophysiology of the different disorders, shed light into common biological pathways that are fundamentally important for normal neurodevelopmental processes" she said.

Zhang-James will study the role of SLC9A9 in the development and function of brain cells in genetically engineered mice. "I hope this research can lead us to a better understanding of the causes for both ADHD and autism, and help us to discover novel therapeutic strategies for the children who suffer from both disorders, especially children who have co-occurrences of both sets of symptoms who may respond poorly to the standard ADHD treatments. "

NARSAD's Young Investigator Grants are awarded to support innovative mental health research and pioneer breakthroughs in understanding and treating mental illness. Zhang-James is one of 214 researchers selected to receive one of NARSAD's Young Investigator grants this year. More than 1,000 researchers applied for the funding.

"The Young Investigator program is a hallmark of NARSAD grants, funding the research of young scientists on the quest to find breakthroughs in the field of mental health," said Benita Shobe, NARSAD president and CEO. "This body of research represents the cutting-edge of brain and behavior research. Young Investigators are selected for their innovation and potential to improve the lives of people living with mental illness through enhanced treatments and therapies and a better understanding of the cause of mental illness."