Health News

Florida Clinical Research Center needs 20 Manatee subjects to try digital ADHD therapy

Evan England, 11, sits with his mother, Jissel Shoemaker, at their home in Bradenton. Evan has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and is taking part in a new treatment study that uses special video games to treat the condition. 
 GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald
Evan England, 11, sits with his mother, Jissel Shoemaker, at their home in Bradenton. Evan has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and is taking part in a new treatment study that uses special video games to treat the condition. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald


Evan " Call of Duty" England might be Manatee County's most talented 11-year-old video gamer.

"I think I might be," Evan said recently, a big smile covering his bright and eager face.

Evan's mother, Jissel Shoemaker, recently said her son, who attends Haile Middle School on State Road 64, is a master at single-shooter games like Call of Honor: Black Ops III, the military science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Treyarch and published by Activision.

"He fell in love with Xbox when he was about 5 years old," Shoemaker said last Tuesday. "He's very good. He loves it. If I let him, he would literally play forever."

Evan's brilliance at Call of Duty: Black Ops III is exactly why a Manatee County research clinic called Florida Clinical Research Center is very interested in him.

The research clinic wants to see how this video game whiz will do playing something that is closely akin to a video game, but is not.

The item being tested is called Evo and it's actually a digital therapy option for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder that is based on a video game.

Besides being good at video games, Evan he has been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, and has done extremely well on medication for it.

Evan will be one of about 20 subjects -- there is still time and space for other Manatee children age eight to 12 who have an ADHD diagnosis or are suspected to have it -- to sign up to help test Evo, said Dr. Andrew Cutler, a medical doctor and chief executive officer and chief medical officer of Florida Clinical Research Center, 8043 Cooper Creek Blvd., Suite 107, Bradenton.

Like Evan, the subjects will start in mid-May and will be required to play Evo on a tablet or laptop computer for 25 minutes every day for five days a week, Cutler said.

"Also, they can either be on ADHD medication or not when they come to us," Cutler said of the test subjects. "If they do qualify for this study, they would be taken off of their medicine because we want to evaluate the game itself without medication."

The children will play Evo for four weeks.

Subjects who are chosen will be compensated for their participation at about $50 per office visit, Cutler added.

Evan exhibited ADHD in kindergarten

When he was in kindergarten at Bashaw Elementary School on Morgan Johnson Road, teachers began to notice that Evan was hyper and couldn't focus on one task at a time.

"His teacher said that he was having problems sitting still, concentrating, finishing work," Shoemaker said. "He was just bouncing all over the place."

Evan was distracting other children and not doing well academically, Shoemaker said.

The School District of Manatee County tested Evan and an ADHD diagnosis was the result, Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker said she agreed to tell Evan's story in a public forum because she wants to share what she's learned about ADHD and how he has changed on medication. She holds out hope that Evo could get Evan off meds.

"I saw my child jump off the couch, talk a thousand miles an hour, do badly in school and I thought it's just what kids are supposed to do when they are kids," Shoemaker said. "But I didn't know it was related to something other than them being just kids. It is always good to get an outside opinion, like the Florida Clinical Research Center. My advice is to have someone outside your family take a look at your child if you suspect something."

Evan started with a low dose of the ADHD drug Adderall, and then Vyvanse, his mother said.

Shoemaker describes her son's behavior on Vyvanse as being "like night and day" different from when he was non-medicated.

"You could tell he wasn't bouncing off the walls anymore," Shoemaker said. "If you called him and reminded him of a task, like do your homework or clean your room, he would do it. Before, it would be a fight. Now, even the teachers say, 'Wow, we know when he is not on the medication, we just know immediately because you can tell the difference.' "

Asked if he feels different now, Evan nodded his head.

"I feel calm and relaxed," he said.

Evo is designed to create 'pathways'

Dr. Adam Gazzaley , a world reknown cognitive neuroscientist based at the University of California in San Francisco, partnered with Akili Inc. to make the digital therapy device called Evo, Cutler said.

"Akili brought to the table really advanced, experienced, video game designers and software engineers and they took Dr. Gazzaley's intellectual ideas and married them to this therapeutic video game and created something that goes away beyond entertainment," Cutler said. "This is something that we believe will be a treatment and intervention and may help a lot of people with ADHD."

Gazzaley designed Evo to promote "neuro-plasticity" in the brains of children like Evan with ADHD, Cutler said.

"The child is basically doing the tasks on the video game and the thinking is that the game adapts and subsequently gets harder and harder at each level and the child's brain gets stronger to meet the challenge," Cutler said.

Neuro-plasticity is the idea that nerve cells in human brains actually can grow and can make new connections, Cutler said.

"There are sections of the brain that don't seem to be working properly," Cutler said of ADHD patients. "If you do brain scans you see a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is not lighting up. It's not as active as it should be. That causes problems in a variety of areas that have to do with executive function or the regulation of attention, behavior and mood. With medication, we see these parts of the brain actually turning on and lighting up." Akili and Cutler hope that Evo will make the prefrontal cortex "light up."

Said Cutler: "We think this digital intervention, even though you don't play it forever, will have long-term benefit that goes beyond the period of time you play the game."

To be a test subject for Evo call 941-747-7900 or go to

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.