Millions Given for Soldier Health Research

By: Michelle Peltier
By: Michelle Peltier

A Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Researcher will become one of a few in the nation studying post traumatic stress syndrome in soldiers.

Keith Young, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the HSC-COM and co-director of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System Neuropsychiatry Research Program, received $3 million to fund the research at Veterans Affairs facilities in Temple and Waco.

Prior research has led Dr. Young to the conclusion the inheritance of a common serotonin transporter (SERT) gene variant was found to be involved in enlargement of the pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus, which is involved in interpreting threatening visual stimuli, facial expressions and fearful emotions.

The enlarged pulvinar may enhance the brain's "automatic threat detection system," making some people more vulnerable when exposed to stress and trauma.

The finding, to be published later this month, could explain why some people are more resilient and others more vulnerable to both depression and PTSD.

Drs. Young and Hicks and Kathryn Kotrla, M.D., chair of psychiatry and behavioral science in the HSC-COM, met with U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, in spring 2005 to discuss potential funding for PTSD research.

The legislature approved $3 million for Dr. Young's program in late 2005, and he and his colleagues have been working with Congress, the Army and Department of Defense for the past year on satisfying all the requirements needs for releasing the funds.

Now that Dr. Young has the green light to move forward, his project will involve following 1,400 soldiers who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan for one year to determine the link between an individual's resiliency to PTSD and his or her genetics.

"Right now, we have $3 million to start with, but I am hopeful that we will receive increased funding to continue to promote this area of research," Dr. Young said. "It's important that we keep searching for the root cause of PTSD and seek new treatments for our soldiers and veterans."

Dr. Young will divide the $3 million amoungst researchers at Baylor,
Fort Hood, Texas A&M, Baylor, the Temple V-A, and the Waco V-A Hospital.

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