Every classroom has one — the child who can't control his temper, talks during lessons, and picks fights with the other kids. Some of these children may simply be "acting out" for attention. Thousands of others may have a genetic component that causes disruptive, irrational behavior.
Steven R. Pliszka, M.D., an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), has discovered a portion of the brain that doesn't appear to function properly in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He just received a $36,000 grant from the George and Fay Young Foundation to advance a groundbreaking research project that could lead to a standardized, diagnostic test for the disorder.
ADHD affects about 5 percent of school-aged children, 2 percent of adolescents and 1 percent to 2 percent of adults. It's characterized by consistent inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
By using a process called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fmri), Dr. Pliszka takes pictures of activity in the brain. The fmri is a type of brain scan that uses no radiation and causes no pain or discomfort to the patient.
In preliminary tests, children with ADHD displayed a lack of activity in the right frontal lobe. "The results suggest we can identify brain mechanisms that may not be fully functional in ADHD patients," Dr. Pliszka said. "In the long term, this study will provide a better way to diagnose ADHD and predict who will respond best to certain medications."
ADHD is currently, and controversially, treated with medications such as Aderol and Ritalin. Dr. Pliszka's work eventually may lead to more effective treatments for the disorder, as well as a standardized, diagnostic test to determine if children do suffer from brain dysfunction.
Dr. Pliszka is working in conjunction with Peter Fox, M.D., and Jinju Xiong, Ph.D., of the UTHSC's Research Imaging Center. The UTHSC is one of only a handful of institutions, globally, to conduct this type of research.