Lab aims to pinpoint PTSD with biomarkers

Draper Laboratory, a not-for-profit R&D lab, is seeking funding to find biomarkers to support the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Diagnosis is tricky--it is based on interviews, and only half of the people with PTSD are actually correctly diagnosed with the disorder. Of those people who are diagnosed, not all will get effective treatment. Finding markers could therefore lead to more accurate testing for the disorder, and more effective treatment. As a first step, the lab has created a consortium of U.S. experts from across a wide variety of disciplines and institutions, and has started to apply for federal grants.

PTSD is seen in members of the military and civilians alike, and affects up to 8% of the U.S. population at some point in their lives. PTSD can lead to physical and emotional symptoms, including panic attacks, substance abuse, depression, suicide, and cardiovascular disorders, and affects people's family and working lives. Improving diagnosis will help people's quality of life, as well as cut healthcare and societal costs.

 "This will help clinicians develop personalized treatment plans to improve outcomes, rather than relying on 'one-size-fits-all' approaches," says Roger Pitman, director of the PTSD Research Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The consortium plans to combine a number of known biomarkers, including neuroimaging, psychophysiology, chemical assays, and gene expression, and see how they interact together, using data analysis systems based on those used by NASA and the Department of Defense. Pitman has told The New York Times that the plan is to recruit several thousand patients who have gone through trauma, and screen them and measure their biomarker levels.

Some experts suggest that PTSD is overdiagnosed and treatment is wasted on people who don't need it. Others suggest that the condition is underdiagnosed, as people in the military may mask the symptoms to avoid being taken off active duty, or over concerns that their careers could be at stake.

- check out the article in The New York Times
- see the press release