Health, demographic change and wellbeing - CANDY


The Comorbid Analysis of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Epilepsy project, in short CANDY, is a project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, based on a collaboration of seventeen partners from six EU-countries and Switserland. These partners are closely collaborating in this international research programme, coordinated by Radboud University (Medical Centre) in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

CANDY investigates the biological links between different neurodevelopmental disorders and co-occurring somatic illnesses and how treatment and monitoring of affected patients can be improved. The five-year project has started on January 1st, 2020.

Project description

In Europe, 10-15% of children and adults or 50 to 75 million individuals are affected by neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability (ID), motor problems and language disorders. It is not hard to imagine that one of these conditions alone can have a serious impact on a person’s life. What makes the situation even worse is the fact that several of these conditions often co-exist and, on top of that, go along with somatic illnesses, such as epilepsy. This significantly affects both life expectancy and quality of life and there are no effective treatments to date.

In the CANDY project, we investigate the biological links between these neurodevelopmental conditions and co-existing somatic illnesses and how treatment and monitoring of affected patients can be improved.

More specifically, there are two clinical research studies: The CANDY PIP study and the Multiplex study.

  1. In CANDY we are collaborating with the AIMS-2-TRIALS project and their study “Pre-School Brain Imaging and Behaviour Project (PIP)”. PIP is the first study to track how pre-school children with and without autism develop over time and across Europe. CANDY is adding children with ADHD, diverse forms of ID and epilepsy to the PIP study. The aim of the study is to identify biomarkers that can be used to predict how children with neurodevelopmental conditions and epilepsy are developing and which children may develop more than one of these conditions. The study also aims to identify which children may benefit from early support for communication, language and sensory processing.
  2. The Multiplex study is the first study to track the heritability of rare genetic risk variants for several neurodevelopmental conditions. Neurodevelopmental conditions likely result from a combination of both rare genetic variants and many common low-risk variants. In this study, we are looking at families with at least 2 children with neurodevelopmental conditions.

The study is called the “Identification of genetic factors involved in neurodevelopmental conditions in multiplex families” (Multiplex). It will involve “multiplex” families that are defined as families with one child with autism, at least one other child with autism, ID, ADHD or epilepsy, and unaffected siblings when possible. All participants will be evaluated directly by a psychiatrist or psychologist who are experts in the field of autism, ADHD, ID or epilepsy, respectively, and experienced in the use of standardized or semi-standardized clinical instruments.

Blood samples will be taken for genetic analyses. We will perform whole genome sequencing to identify major rare variants associated with neurodevelopmental conditions. The special study design will allow us to examine and separate the burden of de novo mutations, the presence of rare deleterious variants and the effects of common genes (genetic background).

The Multiplex study will inform us on the molecular pathways involved in the different conditions. Thereby, it is moving away from categorical disease classifications toward an understanding of the mechanisms that are shared and distinct between neurodevelopmental conditions. The overall aim is to identify treatment targets based on aetiology (cause of the condition) and not merely on symptomatology (symptoms of the condition).


Our overall goal is to improve the understanding of the crosstalk between genetics, immune activation/ inflammation, and microbiome, and thereby provide a compelling novel conceptual framework to:

  • Elucidate the causal mechanisms that underlie autism, ADHD, ID and epilepsy
  • Develop new strategies for prevention and treatment of autism, ADHD, ID, and epilepsy
  • Deliver novel biomarkers to guide early diagnosis, stratification and treatment monitoring
  • Open-up new avenues for research in autism, ADHD, ID, and epilepsy

This will ultimately benefit people with neurodevelopmental conditions, improving their long-term outcome and lowering their burden.

Role of Ghent University

The UGent Research in Developmental Disorders Lab (RIDDL), led by prof. dr. Herbert Roeyers, participates in the CANDY PIP and Multiplex studies. We follow up young children with developmental delay or ADHD for around three years, collecting data on behaviour, cognition and brain development. For the Multiplex study, we will see multiplex families (families with more than one person with a developmental condition) with a focus on genetics.



Prof. dr. Herbert Roeyers
Department Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology
Phone number: +32 9 264 64 48