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Clinical Trial Probes the Genetics of PTSD

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Clinical Trial Probes the Genetics of PTSD


PETALUMA, CA. A new DNA study is starting in California with the goal of mapping the genetic changes that occur in veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent studies have shown that certain genes are more active in PTSD sufferers than others, and the new study aims to find out if both the genetic signals of PTSD and the psychological symptoms can be simultaneously reversed. Common psychological problems include flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance, while physical problems range from increased rates of heart disease, to shrinkage of the brain’s memory-processing structures.

The study is being performed by the nonprofit Foundation for Epigenetic Medicine, in collaboration with two other Bay Area charities, the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS). It examines key genetic markers of veterans with PTSD, then gives them ten sessions of an evidence-based method called Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. EFT has been the subject of several previous clinical trials; veterans in these studies typically experience PTSD symptom reductions of of 65% or more after just a few sessions. EFT was effective with 86% of veterans suffering from clinical PTSD.

The study draws on the experience of the Iraq Vets Stress Project, a network of 150 therapists and life coaches who are providing EFT to veterans free of charge in response to the record numbers of troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD (www.StressSoluiton.org). Study investigators include Garret Yount, PhD of California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) and Dawson Church, PhD of the Foundation for Epigenetic Medicine.

“Existing studies show that EFT reduces PTSD and other mental health problems dramatically,” says Church, “We’re interested in finding out if there are genetic changes happening too, for example to the genes that contain the blueprints for building stress hormones like cortisol, or regulating immunity and inflammation.”

The trial is being funded with private donations from organizations and individuals concerned with the impact of PTSD on society, and is expected to last through the end of 2012. It will follow the progress of participants for six months after they complete their EFT sessions, to determine if any improvements hold. Previous studies have tracked veterans for up to two years after treatment, and shown that they do not return to the high levels of distress they experienced before EFT. If successful, the new trial will yield important information about the genetic changes produced by successful treatment of PTSD, and could lead to larger numbers of veterans receiving treatment with EFT.