Dec. 14, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 49



Grant award enhances unique ADHD research

Portrait of Dr. Pliszka PLISZKA

The George and Fay Young Foundation has awarded Dr. Steven R. Pliszka, associate professor in the department of psychiatry, a $36,000 grant to advance his psychiatric research.

Dr. Pliszka is studying the causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and its effects on juvenile offenders.

"The results suggest we can identify brain mechanisms that aren't functioning properly 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 a diagnosis applied to patients who consistently display inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. If not treated properly, it can lead to overtly aggressive behavior. Doctors believe ADHD affects 5 percent of school-age children, 2 percent of adolescents and 1 percent to 2 percent of adults. It is commonly treated with medications such as Aderol and Ritalin, and it is commonly passed off as a disciplinary problem.

"We hope the results of our study will help convince the public that ADHD is an actual medical condition with a genetic component," Dr. Pliszka said.

He and his team use a process called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fmri) to take a snapshot of the active brain. During his study, Dr. Pliszka asks patients to perform a task that requires impulse control, while monitoring brain activity.

"The ADHD patients show a lack of activity in the right frontal lobe of the brain when they are supposed to stop themselves from performing a certain task," Dr. Pliszka said. "These results could lead to a standardized diagnostic test for ADHD in the future."

Dr. Pliszka is collaborating with Drs. Peter Fox and Jinhu Xiong of the UTHSC Research Imaging Center. Dr. Mario Liotti, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and formerly of the RIC, also is participating in the study.

The Health Science Center is one of only a handful of institutions conducting this type of ADHD research worldwide.