ADHD News & Research

Remembering ADHD Pioneer Joseph Biederman, M.D.

Esteemed psychiatrist Joseph Biederman, M.D., authored ground-breaking ADHD research credited with changing the course of pediatric psychopharmacology and ADHD treatment. After more than 40 years at Massachusetts General Hospital and several decades at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Biederman passed away January 5 at age 75.

January 10, 2023

Psychiatrist, ADHD expert, and ADDitude contributor Joseph Biederman, M.D., passed away late last week, just days before he was scheduled to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD), which he co-founded, honoring his decades of groundbreaking ADHD research and advocacy.

Biederman, age 75, served as Chief of the Clinical and Research Programs in Pediatric Psychopharmacology and Adult ADHD at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Director of the Alan and Lorraine Bressler Clinical and Research Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders at MGH, and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Considered the father of pediatric psychopharmacology, Biederman dedicated his career to examining the causes, diagnosis, and ADHD treatment across the lifespan.

“He was truly a giant in our field with a brilliant mind and compelling personality,” wrote APSARD president Ann Childress, M.D., on the organization’s website. “As one of the most highly cited child and adolescent psychiatrists in the world, he changed the course of pediatric psychopharmacology. More importantly to us, as his colleagues, he was also a great teacher and mentor, a world-class clinician, a tireless champion of causes he believed in, and a great friend.”

Pioneer of Pediatric Psychopharmacology

“Dr. Joseph Biederman is a pioneer in the ADHD community,” said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Instructor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. “So much of what we know about the psychopharmacological treatment of ADHD and other pediatric conditions is because of Dr. Biederman’s prolific body of solid research. We will miss him; but, thankfully, he left an indelible legacy of work that continues to inform psychiatric treatment positively.”

Biederman transformed the landscape of child psychiatry by founding the world’s first pediatric psychopharmacology clinic, said Stephen V. Faraone, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair for the Research Department of Psychiatry, Norton College of Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University. At the time, “most treatments for child mental illness were psychological in nature,” Faraone said. “Through research, he [Biederman] documented the biological bases of these disorders and the efficacy and safety of medications. He trained two generations of clinical researchers who continue this tradition of treating patients based on scientific evidence rather than personal opinions or untested theories. The world is a better place because Joe Biederman was here.”

Influence on Psychopharmacology, ADHD Treatment

Biederman was the author and co-author of more than 800 scientific articles, 650 scientific abstracts, and 70 book chapters. His article detailing how ADHD is a significant risk factor for motor vehicle accidents and traffic infractions among young drivers was included in ADDitude’s list of Best ADHD articles for professionals in 2022.

In 2014, Thompson Reuters named Biederman one of The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds, ranking him in the top 1% by citations for psychiatry. The Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) ranked Biederman as the second-highest producer of high-impact papers in psychiatry worldwide in 2007 and first in total citations to his papers published on ADHD in the past decade.

“Joe Biederman was a research powerhouse,” said psychologist and ADDitude contributor Ari Tuckman, Psy.D. “For years, I have used one of his studies to calm parents who are anxious about considering stimulant medication for their child.”

“Our field has lost a giant. Our world has lost a mensch,” said Edward Hallowell, M.D., founder of The Hallowell Centers for Cognitive and Emotional Health. “I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Biederman for his disruptive curiosity and the cornucopia of research it begat; for his generosity in opening the door to younger colleagues; for his courage in standing up for what he believed in; and for his stellar example of a life well lived… I mark his passing with sadness but also with immense personal gratitude. I could not have written my books about ADHD without the work of Joe Biederman.”

In 2008, Biederman came under scrutiny when Congressional investigators found that he, along with two colleagues, failed to disclose earnings from drug makers. The following year, The New York Times reported that Biederman “had told drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson that planned studies of its medicines in children would yield favorable results benefiting the company, according to court documents dating over several years.” Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School disciplined Biederman and his colleagues for violating disclosure rules, yet his career as a psychiatrist and leading expert on ADHD appears not to have suffered.

Biederman’s Road to Psychiatry

Biederman was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to parents Ana and Max Biederman, Holocaust survivors saved by Oskar Schindler. The family immigrated to Argentina, where Biederman grew up with his twin brother, Leon.

At 23, Biederman graduated from the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine and began his psychiatry residency at Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, the following year. He moved to the U.S. in 1978 and began a fellowship in child psychiatry at Children’s Hospital, Boston. He joined the MGH Department of Psychiatry in 1980.

Biederman is survived by his wife, Helen; children Itai Biederman, Daniela (Seth) Waldenberg, and Ari Biederman (Tracy Webber); grandchildren Noah, Jacob, and Kayla Biederman and Lila Waldenberg; and his brother, Leon (Aviva) Biederman.