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Press release No. 23/2017, 2017-02-03 | zur deutschen Fassung | print version | Search

New therapy for ADHD and autism

EU funds international project on brain stimulation

Chronic mental health disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are common diagnoses in children and adolescents. The traditional treatment of these diseases envisages the use of drugs and psychotherapy. An international consortium, under the leadership of Professor Michael Siniatchkin of the Faculty of Medicine at Kiel University (CAU), is investigating an alternative treatment method, in which the brain is stimulated with low amplitude direct current. The scientists and researchers also want to develop a device that enables treatment at home. As part of the "Horizon 2020" programme, the European Commission is funding the STIPED (STImulation in PEDiatrics) research project with a total of six million Euro over five years. Around two million Euro of the funding will go to Kiel University. The scientists involved started the research project yesterday (Thursday, February 2) with a kick-off meeting in Kiel.

Chronic mental health disorders are proven to reduce the quality of life of those suffering from ADHD or ASD, as they can be a heavy social and also financial burden for the families. The previously available treatment options such as pharmacotherapy and behavioural therapy are not adequate for many children and adolescents. "Our project suggests a simple treatment option, which may easily be integrated into the everyday life of children and adolescents. The method is related to the application of a very low electrical current to the head of patients in order to improve function of specific brain areas, which are affected in ADHD and ASD", explained the project leader Professor Michael Siniatchkin from the Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology. It uses the non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) technique. "The technology has already been used for 15 years in the treatment of disorders such as depression, chronic pain, tinnitus, psychosis or in the rehabilitation of stroke-related damage, and is proven to be well tolerated, easy to perform and cost-effective", emphasized Siniatchkin. "We are very optimistic that brain stimulation can also be a safe alternative to existing treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders such as ADHD and ASD”, continued the project leader. In the STIPED project, the team of scientists are investigating the effects of this type of brain stimulation on children and adolescents with ADHD and ASD for the first time.

A total of five clinical studies are planned in the framework of the research project. In addition to the children and their families, caregivers and teachers will also be involved in the relevant aspects of the studies. This will ensure that the new treatment integrates well into the daily life of the patients, and that any possible concerns and requirements are adequately considered. It will take place as part of accompanying ethical research, explained Alena Buyx, Professor of Biomedical Ethics at the Institute of Experimental Medicine: "Children with health disorders such as ADHD and ASD are a group in need of special protection, therefore all involved in STIPED pay very strict attention to taking an ethically-correct approach to research. In addition, we want to use a survey study to find out how the parties feel about the new methods, and what the resulting ethical and social implications might be."

Parallel to the studies, the consortium is also working on the development of a special electron cap, with which the patients can be treated directly at home – supported by a personal telemental health service. By means of this medical care from a distance, a secure, continuous monitoring of the symptoms and the stimulation parameters is ensured. Medical appointments and health-care costs can thereby be reduced, and at the same time the acceptance of the treatment is increased. In addition to the treatment of ADHD and ASD, the project will also enable the development of new treatment options for a wide variety of other chronic mental health disorders.

Interested parties can apply to participate in the studies of ADHD and ASD from June 2017.

About the consortium
The consortium consists of the following organisations: Kiel University (University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, Institute of Experimental Medicine, Department of Medical Informatics and Statistic and the Zentrum für Klinische Studien (ZKS - Centre for Clinical Studies)), Goethe University Frankfurt, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, University of Coimbra, University of Lisbon, CHRU Tours, Centre for Integrative Psychiatry ZIP Kiel, Neuroelectrics SLU, Starlab Barcelona, ARTTIC.

About the Horizon 2020 programme
Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research and innovation programme to date, with nearly EUR 80 billion of funding available over a period of 7 years (2014 to 2020). It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market. The project is funded as part of the societal challenges pillar in a specific call on new therapies for chronic diseases. Chronic diseases represent a significant burden on individuals and healthcare systems in the European Union and beyond. Innovative and effective therapeutic approaches are required to provide the best quality of care when prevention strategies fail. While considerable basic knowledge has been generated by biomedical research in recent years, the development of new therapies is stagnating, in part due to a lack of clinical validation.

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A test subject performs a simple reaction time task, while being stimulated with DC current.
Photo/Copyright: Uwe Niederberger/IMPS

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A test subject is wearing the stimulation hood. On the screen you can see a visualization of the electrode positions.
Photo/Copyright: Uwe Niederberger/IMPS

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The EEG hood is prepared, in order to measure the brain waves.
Photo/Copyright: Uwe Niederberger/IMPS

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Press contact:
Karolin Waschull
Tel.: 0431 500 30813

Contact for anyone interested in participating in the study:
Dr. Vera Moliadze
phone: 0431/ 500 30835

Kiel University
Press, Communication and Marketing, Dr. Boris Pawlowski
Address: D-24098 Kiel, phone: +49 (0431) 880-2104, fax: +49 (0431) 880-1355
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Text / Redaktion: ► Raissa Nickel