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Michigan Researchers Hope to Cure Childhood OCD

October 29, 2009

LANSING, Mich. - Childhood obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, can be debilitating for children, their families and their teachers. Hoping to uncover the cause and find a cure, researchers from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan have launched the largest study, to date, of childhood obsessive-compulsive disorder. Thought to be largely genetic in origin, the complete causes of OCD remain a mystery, yet it is a condition affecting 6 million people in the United States.

Comments from Melissa Pierson, parent-to-parent coordinator for Michigan's Association of Children's Mental Health, says OCD is often viewed in schools as a discipline problem.

"Parents often report they don't feel well-supported, or that the schools are open to accommodating these kinds pf issues."

Most people who have OCD experience the first symptoms during childhood. Pierson hopes the study will help school professionals understand OCD and equip them to handle it appropriately.

One in three children do not respond to conventional medication treatments for OCD, but researchers say the new study is building on data that suggests children with the condition have higher than normal levels of glutamate and lower levels of serotonin in their brain. Still, says Pierson, facts alone can't combat all the misunderstanding many people have.

"Even when they're informed about that, it's almost seen as a mental health-related issue. They say, 'It's not a school-related issue, so it's not something that we deal with here.' I think they're really challenged to know how to best support a child with OCD to be academically successful."

Among other things, researchers want to be able to identify more effective drug therapy for OCD. Four hundred Michigan children and their families are being recruited for the five-year, which will attempt to determine what prompts some children to engage in repetitive, ritualistic actions such as hand washing or hoarding.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI