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Upstate Medical University student Eric Barnett

Upstate student wins Young Scientist award from World Congress on ADHD

An Upstate Medical University student has been given a prestigious award by an international conference on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Eric Barnett is a sixth-year MD/PhD student in the College of Graduate Studies. He was one of just eight recipients of a Young Scientist award at the recent World Congress on ADHD, which is sponsored by the World Federation of ADHD. As part of the award, Barnett completed a 20-minute pre-recorded presentation for the virtual four-day Congress and will receive 500 Euros (about $611).

Barnett, 30, is originally from Cary, North Carolina and completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s been studying at Upstate since 2015. Upstate MD/PhD students complete two years of medical school, followed by four to five years of graduate studies, followed by the last two years of medical school. Barnett will complete a fifth year of graduate studies starting in the fall before completing the last two years of medical school.

Barnett works in the lab of Stephen Faraone, PhD, distinguished professor and vice chair of research of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Faraone is an internationally renowned expert on ADHD. Barnett’s research focus is how machine learning (or artificial intelligence) can help interpret large data sets of genetic information to better understand ADHD.                                       

“At the human level, we can’t comprehend a network with hundreds of thousands of computations,” he said. “It’s not feasible for us to find complex patterns in that much data but machine learning can. There’s still so much we don’t know about ADHD and that’s exciting to me.”

After working in a lab before coming to Upstate, Barnett said he discovered that he was more interested in the computational side of the research – understanding how to analyze and interpret data. With his MD/PhD degree from Upstate, Barnett hopes to one day study ADHD through a mix of lab work and research.  

“The dream job is to split time between research and the clinic,” he said. “You see things differently when you look at research from a clinical perspective.”

Barnett learned of the award earlier this year and was asked to record his 20-minute presentation a month before the Congress, which was held virtually May 6 to 9 with more than 1,100 participants.

“This is probably the best award I’ve ever won,” he said. “This is the first research award I’ve won at Upstate and I was very excited to win it.”

Faraone said the award is especially impressive because Barnett was competing with post-doctoral students as well as junior faculty. The World Congress on ADHD is attended annually by hundreds of ADHD experts from around the world. This year’s congress was based in Prague.

"I believe that Eric’s work was so well received because he is one of the first to develop a method for using genomic data to predict disease that addresses issues that have confounded prior work,” Faraone said. “This task is difficult but, if ultimately successful, will allow for improved accuracy when using genomic data to predict psychiatric and medical outcomes.”