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Consortium Receives $45M to Research Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Using NGS, Mass Spec

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A consortium led by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has received a five-year award for up to $45 million from the US Department of Defense and US Department of Veterans Affairs to use next-generation sequencing and mass spectrometry to conduct research into post-traumatic stress disorder.

The consortium, called the STRONG STAR Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (STRONG STAR-CAP), includes the participation of the VA National Center for PTSD. It will use next-gen sequencing and mass spec to perform clinical trials and studies in order to learn more about the biology of PTSD development and treatment response. The efforts are anticipated to result in better diagnostic tools, improve the ability to predict disease outcome, and improve treatment methods.

UTHSC, with funding from DoD, had already been researching different PTSD treatments and using microarray technology to research changes in messenger RNA in soldiers who have been deployed in military action and who have developed PTSD, Douglas Williamson told GenomeWeb Daily News. The new funding will build on that research.

Williamson is director of the Genetic Epidemiology Program for the School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry at UTHSC. He also is director of the Genomics and Basic Science Core for the STRONG STAR-CAP.

STRONG STAR (South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience) was initially funded in 2008 by the DoD's Office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, part of the US Army's Medical Research and Material Command.

The work to be done with the new funding will include the sequencing of small RNA, as well as "actually doing gene sequencing and looking at structural contributors both for diagnosis of PTSD … and also treatment outcomes of post-traumatic stress disorder," Williamson said.

Mass specs will be used to identify peripheral protein biomarkers that may help in predicting the risk for developing PTSD, as well as predicting treatment response and outcome.

"The whole goal really is to develop personalized medicine applications that will guide us in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder," Williamson said. The number of individuals who are anticipated to be included in STRONG STAR-CAP will number in the thousands, he added.

The DoD plans to provide $20.3 million to UTHSC as a coordinating center for STRONG STAR-CAP. The VA is funding up to $25 million for the consortium, and its funds will be used only to support research at VA sites.

The award, which was announced this week, follows an executive order that was signed a year ago by President Obama to improve access to mental health services for veterans, service members, and military families.

As part of the order, the DoD, the VA, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the US Department of Education were directed to develop a National Reserve Action Plan that included strategies to improve early diagnosis and treatment effectiveness for PTSD and traumatic brain injury.