A University of Toledo researcher has received a $3.38 million award from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the brain for early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after an injury.
PTSD is increasingly recognized as a major mental health problem, with an estimated eight million adults suffering from some form of the disorder as a result of a traumatic event.
The largest grant received by the University from the National Institute of Mental Health, the competitive award was given to Dr. Xin Wang, associate professor of psychiatry in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, to use MRI imaging to study the early development of PTSD in trauma victims.
His study titled “Study of Early Brain Alterations That Predict Development of Chronic PTSD,” will receive $755,000 in 2016, and a total of $3.38 million over a period of four and a half years, pending oversight and review of annual congressionally approved NIH funding levels. The NIH study section that peer-reviewed Wang’s proposal ranked it in the top 4th percentile for “major research” among those competing for mental health research funding.
The research project will study trauma patients who agree to be monitored for a period of a year during which time they will be evaluated using non-invasive, functional magnetic resonance imaging technology. This state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment is only available at UT Medical Center. Study participants will be recruited from the emergency department at UTMC, as well as the ProMedica and Mercy Health Systems.
“This cutting-edge technology is a safe, non-invasive and non-radioactive way to examine the brain for mechanisms of PTSD development after acute trauma,” Wang said. “Patients will be tracked for one year to identify possible changes in the brain that differentiate the PTSD development and normal recovery free of stress symptoms. We hope to identify the early changes in the brain that occur in the days following a trauma that place a patient at high risk of developing the disorder.”
Wang said PTSD can manifest itself in a number of symptoms ranging from nightmares and flashbacks to paranoia, irritability and difficulty concentrating.
“Patients experiencing PTSD can find it to be relatively minor or totally disruptive to everyday activities,” he said. “It is our goal to monitor brain changes that occur during the progression of PTSD symptoms to develop future preventative or curative treatments and improve the lives of those who experience a traumatic event.”
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur visited Health Science Campus last week to celebrate the award.
“This is a very significant development,” said Kaptur, whose advocacy in 2006 on behalf of returning military personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan led to research funds secured for what became known as the Kaptur Combat Mental Health Initiative. The Department of Defense program involved the monitoring of 3,000 members of the Ohio National Guard in research coordinated by Case Western Reserve University and The University of Toledo.
Kaptur also is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, which has responsibility for funding and oversight of the National Institutes of Health.
“PTSD will touch all of our lives, either personally or through a loved one, friend or colleague,” Kaptur said. “Combat, car accidents, blunt force trauma and contact sports are but a few examples of injuries that can lead to this condition. Dr. Wang’s research could identify and lead to new medical responses for those most likely to suffer from PTSD.”
Wang first developed this acute PTSD study with civilian automobile accident victims in 2013 with support from an NIH pilot grant. His research at UT has drawn attention from national and international PTSD researchers.