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Scientia Associate Professor Helga Zoega from UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Big Data Research in Health has been awarded a $500,000 grant that will allow her team to advance the management of patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) and co-occurring cardiometabolic disease by improving available treatments and risk stratification.

The grant is from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Use of medication to treat ADHD has increased steadily over the past decade, both among children and adults, reaching an average annual growth rate of 10 per cent between 2013 and 2017. The Australian Department of Health recently expressed concern over the growing number of patients treated with government-subsidised medication for ADHD. This stark trend points to improved diagnosis and recognition of ADHD as a life-long condition in Australia, but it also raises concerns of potentially inappropriate treatment – including in populations dealing with co-occurring chronic comorbidities. Comorbidity refers to the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions in a patient.  

How the research will benefit patients with ADHD 

A/Prof. Zoega said emerging evidence points at substantial comorbidity and shared genetics between adult ADHD and cardiometabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Inadequate treatment of cardiometabolic disease is strongly associated with premature death and substantial societal costs. 

“ADHD is a common and serious complex chronic condition, however knowledge about appropriate management of adults with ADHD and co-occurring cardiometabolic disease is lacking,” said A/Professor Zoega. 

“Our aim is to generate new knowledge of how medicines for these common conditions are used in practice, and the resultant benefits, harms and costs. Thereby, improving treatment and clinical outcomes for Australian patients dealing with ADHD and co-occurring cardiometabolic conditions.” 

A/Professor Zoega said the research will hopefully lead to better options and decision making when it comes to treating adults with ADHD and co-occurring cardiometabolic diseases.  

“The research is expected to improve the clinical outcomes, as well as quality of life in adult ADHD patients with co-occurring cardiometabolic disease. Throughout the process, we will engage with and inform clinicians, patients, health authorities, and the wider community to allow for a sustainable implementation of our findings.” 

An Australian-EU collaboration

The grant will run over a five-year period and will form part of the wider TIMESPAN collaboration of research teams and stakeholders from 11 European countries, as well as the United States, Hong Kong, and Australia. Earlier in the year, the team received a large Horizon 2020 EU Research Grant (just under $10 million) to work together to address their main objective.  

The research teams will use existing large-scale cohort studies and linked electronic health record databases in multiple countries with different health care systems. Smartphones and wearable devices to obtain new measurements of ADHD medication treatment and cardiometabolic risks will also be used.  

A/Professor Zoega said the grant will also allow her team within the Medicines Policy Research Unit (MPRU) to create and securely store a unique Australian real-world data platform upon which their research will be based. 

One of the unique aspects of TIMESPAN is the collaborative nature of the planned work, spanning researchers, patient associations, and other stakeholders from across the globe – from Iceland to Australia. Different research sites will be leading the various aspects and components of this work. 

“The combined use of unparalleled data sources and new technologies for data collection, management, analytics will identify optimised and personalised multidisciplinary treatment approaches that minimise harm and maximise positive changes in disease prognosis and enhance treatment. 

“My team and I are excited to be able to contribute Australian expertise, insights and data to this important work. We would not be able to do that without this NHMRC funding.” 

The NHMRC-EU Collaborative Research Grant awardees Scientia Associate Professor Helga Zoega, Professor Sallie-Anne Pearson, Dr Andrea Schaffer from UNSW and Professor Henrik Larsson from Orebro University in Sweden.