Why We Need You

Children with mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism do not have the knowledge or the voice to fend for themselves. They are rejected, considered intrusive or unworthy of being friends with, shunned by peers, not accommodated by teachers and often struggle to find their place in the daily life, turning to suicide or drugs as they get older. Families are equally devastated. We need to find why these mental health problems occur, how do emotional and cognitive problems become a barrier to school and social function. And more importantly, we want to find what would help these children and teens. These are not caused by parents, and are brain disorders, but none the less, impact families. This is a nature-nurture paradigm that needs to be addressed.


  • Finding how brain functions in children who are trying to commit suicide or hurt themselves by working out the relationship between brain circuits that support emotion regulation and impulse control. Understanding how to control the problems will aid in developing targeted interventions.
  • Finding out how adolescents with bipolar disorders differ from their healthy peers in terms of performance on various tasks requiring memory, attention, and executive function of the brain, and how that impacts their ability to function at school. This will help educate teachers, find tailored help at schools and directly inform new treatments in development geared to enhance cognitive function.
  • Finding out how medications impact brain function to reverse the clinical symptoms and brain circuitry dysfunction in children with bipolar disorder. Additionally, we are exploring the genetic causes of the disorder and how genetics influence treatment effects. This will lead to the discovery of biomarkers that predict responders and non-responders to specific medications.
  • Finding out the brain bio-markers that can identify bipolar disorder from ADHD so that we don't mistake one disorder from another and will avoid misdiagnosis and mistreatment.
  • We also are examining how autistic features can overlap with some children with mood disorders and vice versa. This will allow us to address the symptoms of specific brain based cognitive and emotional domains without being merely biased by manmade labels.
  • Discovering and applying cutting edge pharmacological and psychological treatments that include family support.

These results discover predictors, risk factors for morbidity and mortality, and pathophysiology to recognize the disorders, prevent the disorders where possible, learn treatment mechanisms and implement strategies to address the complex overlapping domains of dysfunction across the childhood disorders. Manmade labels do not do justice to the complex symptoms children present with. We will be taking our findings from the Brain Center to the schools and the clinicians involved in serving the affected children.

We use technology that includes genome wide association studies, candidate genes, functional imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, and biochemical assays and we are working on finding novel psychopharmacological, cognitive and psychotherapeutic models of intervention.


We have a number of studies that may involve a variety of tests including:

    A functional MRI scanner takes pictures of the brain to show which areas are working when people are thinking. fMRI scanners are used for routine, clinical practices. For these studies, we will ask you to lie inside the MRI scanner to perform mental tasks while we take pictures of your brain at work.
    We ask people to take paper-and-pencil as well as computerized tests of mental abilities like memory, attention, and problem-solving.
    We typically ask research participants about their health history. This includes any history of mental health problems, physical symptoms and medical treatments.
    This involves watching dots move on a large screen while eye movements are measured with special glasses and electrodes. The electrodes are used only as a way to record how the eyes move.

Our current studies require approximately 6-7 hours of your time. We understand that not all of our participants can reserve this amount of time. Therefore, we are able to accommodate these testing procedures over a 2-day period. Participants are compensated for each complete visit.


Prior to the fMRI scan, participants will be asked to complete a screening process. Exclusion criteria includes participants with a cardiac pacemaker, aneurysm clip, cochlear implants, pregnancy in the later stages (because of body size and limited comfort for MRI studies), bullet or shrapnel wounds, history of metal fragments in eyes, neurostimulators, weight of 250 lbs. or more, or claustrophobia.

For these studies, we will ask you to lie inside the MRI scanner to perform mental tasks while we take pictures of your brain at work. During this period, participants will communicate through an intercom with the technologists and research coordinators, who will provide instructions prior to each task.
Participants will also be given earplugs or headphones to minimize noise from the scanner. For additional comfort, participants are offered pillows for leg support and a blanket.

Since the scanner emits a powerful magnetic field, we ask the following of each participant:

  • We ask participants to remove all metal including jewelry, hair ornaments, watches, studs, and coins. We will keep these items safely in fMRI offices during the scan.
  • If you have tattoos, braces, non-removable body jewelry, a pacemaker, or any other possibility of metal in your body, an fMRI scan would not be suitable for research purposes. Please speak to our staff if you have any question about whether or not you should participate in a study.
  • In rare cases, certain types of eye makeup - especially eye liners - may cause problems with the MR images. This is especially true for "glitter". We recommend that participants come without makeup to avoid having to remove it for the scan.
  • Sometimes people have worked in a metal working shop, which is a common way for metal to get embedded in the eyes. fMRI scans would not be suitable for participants with a history of metal work.
  • Please avoid drinking coffee or large volumes of fluid scanning. Participants will not be able to use the restroom for the duration of the scan (1-1.5 hours). For this reason, we generally recommend that you use the rest room shortly before going into the scanner.
  • An fMRI requires participants to lie inside a scanner for up to 1.5 hours. fMRI scans would not be suitable for participants who would feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic in a small space.


The Brain Center and the clinic is a part of the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program, The Colbeth Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic, the Institute for Juvenile Research, and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


1747 West Roosevelt Road
Suite 155, M/C 747
Chicago, IL 60608
Phone: (312) 996-7723
Fax: (312) 413-0063


Click here to learn more about how your contribution can support and improve the lives of children and adolescents with mental health issues