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New Funding to Research Links Between Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Risk of Neurodegenerative Disorders Later in Life

kid playing with blocks

May 2, 2023

By Emily Gallagher

Brian Lee, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Dornsife School of Public Health, received a 5-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 grant of $4M to study possible links between neurodevelopmental disorders and the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders later in life. The study titled, “LEGENNDS: Linking Epidemiology and GEnetics of Neurodevelopmental and Neurodegenerative Disorders Study,” will begin this spring 2023.

Noted by the researchers, emerging evidence suggests that certain neurodevelopmental disorders – autism (ASD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and intellectual disability – may increase the risk of later life neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia (ADRD), Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

To investigate this further, Lee and a team of researchers at Drexel will conduct a multinational study of epidemiological and genetic data across the countries of Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom to characterize the natural history and familial aggregation of these disorders. They will also explore genetic links between neurodevelopmental and later life neurodegenerative disorders and identify potential targets for intervention that may mitigate risk.

“Our team is fortunate to be able to have access to decades' worth of data on millions of persons to address an emerging need to study the health of older persons with neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Lee.

The study will leverage data from 10+ million individuals from Sweden and Denmark that has decades of follow-up and iPSYCH, an extensively genotyped case-cohort with ~25,000 ASD, ~30,000 ADHD cases, and 50,000 controls and a prospective cohort of older adults from the U.K. (U.K. Biobank) totaling more than half a million individuals.

With this research, Lee and his team hope to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex relationships between neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. This study will further build on Lee’s work in the field of neurodevelopmental research.