Boston Children's Hospital's Psychopharmacology Clinic team members are engaged in important scientific research with real implications for better predicting, understanding, treating and one day preventing mental illness in children and young adults. Some of our research projects include:
Looking for biomarkers in developmental disorders
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and Evoked Response Potentials (ERP) are non-invasive ways to stimulate the brain and measure how its neurons become stimulated, or “excited”; how certain processes in and within the brain’s cortex are inhibited; and how readily connections between certain neurons can be altered by experiences. Children’s researchers are exploring these measures as potential biomarkers that can be tracked in autism spectrum disorders, other developmental disorders and in schizophrenia.
TMS and ERP biomarkers may be able to aid in early identification of psychiatric and neurological disorders—and might also offer a new way to measure how well treatments are correcting the neurochemical abnormalities causing these conditions. TMS biomarkers may be able to aid in early identification of psychiatric and neurological disorders—and might also offer a new way to measure how well treatments are correcting the neurochemical abnormalities causing these conditions.
Developing a computer game that improves emotional regulation
Regulate and Gain Emotional Control (RAGE-Control) is a computer video game to help children improve their ability to regulate emotions. Disorders that affect emotional regulation—especially those conditions that are accompanied by aggressive outbursts—can be very disabling, and are often treated with powerful medications, including antipsychotic drugs. Using insights from the neuroscience of emotional regulation, the RAGE-Control game teaches children and adolescents to gain better control of their emotional responses by achieving certain targets.
At the premise of the RAGE-Control project is Children’s researchers’ belief that a deficit in emotional regulation is similar to a learning disorder—it can be treated with intensive training of anger and frustration management techniques, reducing the need for psychiatric medication. The game is currently being tested in a clinical trial at Children’s. Read a Boston Globe article about the RAGE-Control game.
Enabling early detection of psychosis and pre-psychosis in children
Children’s is a clinical study site for the wide-scale Schizophrenia Prodrome Research Project. In addition to recruiting participants for this important study, we are extending screening services for psychosis to include younger children, as well. The goal of this project is to develop early identification methods that will enable earlier intervention—and eventually, to prevent children with prepsychosis symptoms from developing actual psychosis.
Clinical trials at Children’s
Children’s is known for pioneering some of the most effective diagnostic tools, therapies and preventive approaches in pediatric psychiatry. A significant part of our success comes from our commitment to research—and to advancing the frontiers of mental health care by conducting clinical trials.
Children’s clinicians are involved in a number of clinical trials at any given time.Clinical trials are studies that may involve:
- evaluating the effectiveness of a new drug therapy
- testing a new diagnostic procedure or device
- examining a new treatment method for a particular condition
- taking a closer look at the causes and progression of specific diseases
Children’s is involved in several multi-site clinical trials and studies focusing on pediatric psychopharmacology, in particular. The list of current studies is constantly changing as studies are completed and new ones are started. Examples of related trials we have participated in are:
- the largest placebo controlled trial ever done studing an ADHD medication (Concerta) for children with epilepsy plus ADHD
- the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s registration trials for the drug Risperidone, used to treat adolescent bipolar disorder
- a test of the drug Lamotrigine in preventing relapses in adolescents with bipolar disorder
- a study of “second-generation” antipsychotic drugs’ relative effects on the growth and sexual development of children and adolescents
While children must meet strict criteria in order to be eligible for a clinical trial, your child may be eligible to take part in a study. Before considering this option, you should be sure to:
- consult with your child’s treating physician and treatment team
- gather as much information as possible about the specific course of action outlined in the trial
- do your own research about the latest breakthroughs relating to your child’s condition
If your physician recommends that your child participate in a clinical trial, you can feel confident that the plan detailed for that study represents the best and most innovative care available. Taking part in a clinical trial at Children’s is entirely voluntary. Our team will be sure to fully address any questions you may have, and you may remove your child from the medical study at any time.