Fort Detrick to receive $100 million grant to study PTSD

The Fort Detrick-based Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs on Friday announced $100 million in grants to fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury.

The money follows an executive order issued by the White House on Aug. 31 that calls for expanded mental health services for members of the military, veterans and their families. The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are funding the research, spokeswoman Gail Whitehead said.

Two consortia, one to focus on PTSD and another on mild TBI, are to be set up. Investigators from a number of organizations, including the Defense Department, VA and academia, are expected to collaborate on the work, which will take place over five years, Col. Dallas Hack, director of the Combat Casualty Care Research Program at Detrick, said Friday.

The Army has grappled with PTSD and mild TBI in recent years. The long-term health consequences for those who suffer are not well understood.

“We didn’t want a single (consortium) to try to be everything to everybody,” Hack said.

More than 2 million service members have deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001. The Army estimates that as many as 15 percent of soldiers who deploy may suffer from PTSD. Symptoms of the disorder include flashbacks, loss of sleep and nightmares. Its cause is unknown, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The Consortium to Alleviate PTSD will study prevention strategies, interventions, treatment and indicators of trauma. It will focus on the use of biomarker-based research.

The Defense Department has spent more than $700 million on about 500 studies of TBI since 2007, Hack said. A main goal of the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium will be to study a possible association between chronic mild TBIs and neurodegenerative diseases.

“What we’re trying to get to with this effort is what (are) the longer-term impacts for brain injury,” Hack said.

Susan Connors, president and chief executive officer of the Brain Injury Association of America, called the $100 million funding “enormous.” She said brain injuries have been a silent epidemic for decades.

The National Institutes of Health has spent about $85 million annually on all spectrums of TBI. Such focused work could have lasting effects for improving treatments, prevention and the quality of life by those affected by brain injuries, Connors said.

“It’s desperately needed, hugely welcome, important,” Connors said. She added, “Work on the brain is the next frontier.”

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