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Future Directions in ADHD

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Although no immediate cure is in sight, a new understanding of attention deficit disorder (ADHD) may be forthcoming. Using a variety of research tools and methods, scientists are beginning to uncover new information on the role of the brain in ADHD and effective treatments for the disorder Such research will ultimately result in improving the personal fulfillment and productivity of people with ADHD.

For example, the use of new techniques like brain imaging to observe how the brain actually works is already providing new insights into the causes of ADHD. Other research is seeking to identify conditions of pregnancy and early childhood that may cause or contribute to these differences in the brain. As the body of knowledge grows, scientists may someday learn how to prevent these differences or at least how to treat them.

Researchers are also trying to determine if there are different varieties of attention deficit. With further study, researchers may find that ADHD actually covers a number of different disorders, each with its own cluster of symptoms and treatment requirements. For example, scientists are exploring whether there are any critical differences between children with ADHD who also have anxiety, depression, or conduct disorders and those who do not. Other researchers are studying slight physical differences that might distinguish one type of ADHD from another. If clusters of differences can be found, scientists can begin to distinguish the treatment each type needs.

Future ADHD Medications

A new drug with a nonstimulant mechanism of action may be approved in 2009 for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Intuniv (guanfacine extended-release tablets) is a selective alpha2A-agonist in development by Shire for the once-daily treatment of ADHD. The company submitted an NDA for monotherapy for the treatment of ADHD symptoms throughout the day in children aged 6 to 17 years and received an approvable letter from the FDA in June 2007.

The FDA requested additional information, and the company has been conducting additional clinical work related to the drug’s label.

Immediate-release guanfacine, a medication used to treat high blood pressure, also is used off-label in ADHD.

Anticipated advantages of Intuniv over guanfacine include FDA approval specifically for ADHD and maintenance of blood concentration in the therapeutic range, which is problematic with immediate-release formulations. Another potential advantage: Intuniv is not a controlled substance, and is not associated with any known mechanisms for potential abuse or dependence.

An estimated 30% of children with ADHD cannot tolerate stimulant drugs or do not benefit from currently available ADHD medications. Intuniv also might have applications in combination with stimulant drugs to reduce aggression and insomnia associated with stimulants and adult patients. Shire hopes to gain FDA approval and launch Intuniv in the second half of 2009.

Additional Research into ADHD

Additional research is examining the long-term outcome of ADHD. How do children with ADHD turn out, compared to brothers and sisters without the disorder? As adults, how do they handle their own children? Still other studies seek to better understand ADHD in adults. Such studies give insights into what types of treatment or services make a difference in helping an ADHD child grow into a caring parent and a well-functioning adult.

Animal studies are also adding to our knowledge of ADHD in humans. Animal subjects make it possible to study some of the possible causes of ADHD in ways that can’t be studied in people. In addition, animal research allows the safety and effectiveness of experimental new drugs to be tested long before they can be given to humans. One NIH-sponsored team of scientists is studying dogs to learn how new stimulant drugs that are similar to Ritalin act on the brain.

Piece by piece, through studies of humans and animals, scientists are beginning to understand the biological nature of attention disorders. New research is allowing us to better understand the inner workings of the brain as we continue to develop new medications and assess new forms of treatment.

This article is based upon a brochure published by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Future Directions in ADHD

Ben Martin, Psy.D.

Ben Martin, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He also writes psychoeducational articles about mental disorders and mental illness.

APA Reference
Martin, B. (2018). Future Directions in ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 19, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.