Keeping Genetics in Mind: Drawing the Link between Biology and Mental Health

As a nation, the United States remains challenged in the way we diagnose and treat disorders of the mind and brain, especially in children. Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, even the after effects of concussion, affect a staggering number of families today. Twenty percent of all children have a diagnosed mental health or behavioral disorder, yet less than one in five receive treatment. With at least half of adult mental and behavioral disorders beginning in childhood, addressing these conditions early in life can have far-reaching benefits. With the help of philanthropy, Children’s National is taking on this challenge by establishing a pioneering institute to care for children with conditions of the mind and brain. Children’s National plans to use every means—research, technology, an understanding of the human body—to help children heal and live out their full potential. The core of this new initiative is a biorepository that will house the genetic and other biologic analysis of patient tissue samples. As with some cancers and other diseases, many mind-brain conditions have a significant genetic disposition. Funded by The Board of Visitors of Children’s National through proceeds from their annual Vintage Affair event, the biorepository will allow physicians and scientists to study the connection between a child’s symptoms and diagnosis and their genetic underpinnings. Information from the repository will help doctors and parents make more informed choices about a child’s care. Children’s National will be able to refine and develop new mental health treatments targeted to genetic alterations specific to an illness. Most importantly, the institute can offer hope to the children and families who come to us in need of mental health care.

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