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Wayne State researcher secures $2.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to track ADHD changes

January 15, 2010

DETROIT– A Wayne State University School of Medicine researcher has secured a significant grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health to track the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the brains of children and teens in the hope of developing more effective therapies.

“The primary aim is to track at what age and where in the brain developmental differences start to occur in ADHD compared to the developmental course of healthy individuals,” said Jeffrey Stanley, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurosciences.

The NIMH approved a $2.7 million grant for the research, which will involve brain imaging and other forms of testing.

According to the NIMH, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood illnesses. The symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity. Current treatment includes drug therapy and psychotherapy, but there is no cure.

“The cause and the progression of this illness is poorly understood biochemically, anatomically and functionally,” Stanley said. “The goal of this study is to map out the developmental course of ADHD using neuroimaging biomarkers and to identify at what age and where in the brain changes are occurring in ADHD that deviate from the normal development course of healthy children. Certain brain areas or networks mature earlier than others, and we anticipate seeing neuroimaging alterations occurring in later maturing areas such as the prefrontal cortex that were potentially influenced by maldeveloped earlier brain areas.”

Stanley said ADHD affects 3 percent to 9 percent of children, and accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of child referrals to mental health services. The condition persists into adulthood in as many as 60 percent of cases, affecting 4 percent of adults.

Medical researchers don’t yet know at what age brain networks change in children with ADHD, or how those early impaired networks influence other networks within the brain. Early identification of affected networks and charting changes, Stanley said, is critical for researchers to gain a greater understanding of the development and progression of the condition, and in developing more effective therapies.

Stanley and his research team in the Brain Research and Imaging Neuroscience Division will conduct a five-year neuroimaging study of children and teens with and without ADHD. Each group will consist of 40 children ages 6 to 14. The study patients will undergo a comprehensive battery of tests, including behavioral and cognitive tests, as well as magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, functional magnetic resonance imaging and in vivo spectroscopy, which can measure biochemical information from brain tissue without an invasive biopsy. Assessments of each child will be taken three times during the study to chart developmental changes.

All neuroimaging will take place at the WSU MR Research Facility in Harper University Hospital.

“The early identification of impaired networks and charting temporally impaired networks in ADHD is critical in gaining a greater understanding of the development and progression of ADHD,” Stanley said. “This will result in developing better targeted and age-appropriate cognitive and behavioral therapy for ADHD.”

Stanley also is co-director of the Brain Research and Imaging Neuroscience Division of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurosciences and is program director and graduate officer of the Translational Neuroscience Program.

“ADHD can have a severe impact on a person’s life,” said Hilary Ratner, vice president for research at Wayne State University. “Education, relationships and even careers can be interfered with by ADHD symptoms. Dr. Stanley’s research may offer a clearer picture of the cause and progression of ADHD, and potentially lead to new therapies that will improve the lives of those with ADHD.”

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

For more information, contact Julie O'Connor at julie.oconnor@wayne.edu or Phil Van Hulle at pvanhulle@med.wayne.edu.