BUSM Faculty Members Named to National PTSD Consortium

in Uncategorized
August 17th, 2012

Ann Rasmusson, MD

Ann Rasmusson, MD

Two Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) faculty members have been named to a consortium that will investigate better ways to treat and diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Ann Rasmusson, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and psychiatrist and neuroendocrinologist at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System and National Center for PTSD
  • Jennifer Vasterling, PhD, professor of psychiatry at BUSM, clinical investigator and chief of psychology at the VA Boston Healthcare System and National Center for PTSD

Draper Laboratory formed this consortium of nationally-recognized PTSD experts to improve diagnostic tools and treatment outcomes for the disorder. Bringing together experts from a variety of disciplines and institutions has several advantages, including the ability to look at the full spectrum of factors from neuroimaging to gene expression, and conduct human and animal studies in parallel, thus accelerating knowledge and development of solutions.

The consortium plans to develop solutions based on objective, clinical decision making by using sophisticated algorithms to integrate data from a spectrum of biomarkers including neuroimaging, psychophysiology, chemical assays and gene expression. The resulting diagnostic and treatment protocols will be more objective and personalized, complementing today’s primarily subjective means of evaluation and treatment selection.

Jennifer Vasterling, PhD

Jennifer Vasterling, PhD

Vasterling will lead the effort to integrate neurocognitive data, which includes measures such as memory, attention and other thinking skills that pertain to brain functioning. She will also help with the integration of psychometric measures (i.e., normed self-report measures and structured clinical interviews pertaining to psychosocial functioning and mental health diagnoses) with the biomarker information.

Rasmusson will lead the selection and development of methods for testing and measuring biomarkers from blood, cerebrospinal fluid, or other sources that characterize the function of an individual’s stress response system both at rest and when activated by general or trauma-related stressors. The aim is to identify stress system factors best addressed and treated on an individual basis—to prevent PTSD or aid recovery from extreme stress and prevent its long-term downstream medical and psychiatric consequences.

PTSD has been diagnosed in more than 200,000 troops returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is also commonly found in civilians who have been involved in an accident or assault, or have suffered the unexpected loss of a loved one. Approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives, which can lead to panic attacks, substance abuse, depression, suicide, and a host of serious medical complications, most notably, cardiovascular disorders.

The current state of the art in PTSD diagnosis is based on clinical interviews, so doctors have to rely on patients’ subjective reports. Although the clinical history is a good start, PTSD diagnosis and treatment selection would be better informed if reliable biomarkers of the condition were available, as is the case in many other areas of medicine.

Draper Laboratory is a not-for-profit, engineering research and development organization dedicated to solving critical national problems in national security, space systems, biomedical systems, and energy.