From blank stares to changing sleep medicine worldwide

young boy napping peacefullyEven though over 25 years have passed, Daniel Picchietti, MD, remembers the day he stood up in front of a roomful of pediatric sleep experts like it was yesterday.

He delivered news that eventually would change how the medical community viewed Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Although what he presented was simply informational—that RLS occurred in children as well as the elderly—his audience was stunned.

“We were treated like we were from some other planet. I mean, this was a roomful of blank stares,” Dr. Picchietti said. “To me, their reaction provided a mixture of discouragement and further motivation.”

And that is a lesson he hopes to share with anyone willing to choose a clinical path involving research. Despite bumps in the road, the potential for a greater good should carry you through.

A chance encounter with a peer, Arthur Walters, MD, at a 1989 meeting for the American Academy of Neurology in Chicago led to a discussion about RLS. Both believed it did occur in children.

Dr. Walters asked Dr. Picchietti if he would provide some patients for a genetic study of RLS. Over time this collaboration resulted in a huge study with strong evidence that RLS is common in 1 to 2 percent of children—more common than pediatric epilepsy or diabetes. They published a 2007 article in Pediatrics.

Before that research, physicians around the world chalked child sleep problems up to growing pains or poor parenting.

“What we did was open up the possibility that doctors need to consider RLS in kids,” Dr. Picchietti said.

Dr. Picchietti’s research continues to this day, as he looks into topics such as sleep apnea and correlations between ADHD and exercise.

He also remains engaged in RLS research.

Dr. Picchietti has seen a shift in Carle’s research philosophy since when he joined the practice in 1984.

“There is now a huge commitment to support physicians and staff in many different aspects of research,” Dr. Picchietti said.

“And we’ve also strengthened our ties to the University of Illinois, which will only continue through the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine.”

While the institution has changed, the individual onus remains the same. Dr. Picchietti believes clinicians should feel a desire to look into new ideas based off what patients face.

The result, he said, is worth it.

“It’s been a gratifying part of my career,” Dr. Picchietti said. “I’ve noticed providers from around the world alter their practices to help patients who I haven’t seen and will never see.

“To me, that’s pretty awesome.”