PTSD prediction tool driving new Geisinger study

Service members with ‘at risk’ genetic factors are more likely to develop PTSD
By Jessica Davis
10:31 AM

Genetic factors increase the chances for the development of PTSD. A crucial advanced prediction tool for those at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorders is the driving force behind a new Geisinger study.

Recently deployed National Guard members and reservists return with a higher frequency of traumatic brain injury, depression, substance abuse and PTSD than in comparison to active duty soldiers, recent data shows.

However, these same reservists quickly go back to civilian life without mental health assessments and treatments.

"Generally we've found that individuals with 'at risk' genes are more likely to develop PTSD,  depression and substance abuse especially when associated with a higher exposure to traumatic events or greater exposure to childhood adversity," said Joseph Boscarino, senior scientist for Geisinger Center for Health Research, in a press statement.

The Geisinger study seeks to identify the specific genetic factors that place National Guard members and reservists at a higher risk of developing post-discharge conditions to improve post-trauma treatment and therapy, using Geisinger's EHR, the prediction tool and diagnostic interviews.

Boscarino, one of the nation's leading PTSD researchers and also a U.S. Army combat veteran, is leading the study. He's assisted by a team of Geisinger doctors and researchers, including Thomas Urosevich, US Army Reserve Officer, recently deployed.

The study marks the first of its kind to review mental health and substance abuse factors in the National Guard and Reservists seen in non-Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.

Boscarino believes screening National Guard and Reservists for these genetic factors will lead to better post-traumatic treatments, through the use of genetic counseling.

The PTSD prediction tool has been highly successful. Boscarino developed the tool along with a national team of investigators, including those from Kent State and Tulane Universities. They've collaborated since the World Trade Center attacks on September 2011 and have researched more than 50 publications.

"Until now, there hasn't been an easy-to-use tool to help clinicians rapidly identify PTSD in patients in routine practice or after a traumatic event," said Boscarino.

"We think we now have a basic tool that can quickly identify PTSD cases and facilitate appropriate therapy. I wish my generation of warfighters had these tools available when we returned from Vietnam. Because we didn't, that's why I have been pursuing this research for the past 35 years," he concluded.

The study is funded through a Community Partners in Mental Health Research Award, by the Department of Defense and Defense Health Program's, Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program.