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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Returning Veterans Needed for PTSD Study: New Medical Technique for PTSD

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Veteran receiving Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Research Coordinator Matthew Estey prepares Army Veteran Aaron Smelley for a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan in order to learn how deployment affects the brain and to improve treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PHOTO: Agapito Sanchez, Jr., Baylor College of Medicine

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
HOUSTON - Many Veterans return to civilian life having experienced traumatic events. Researchers recently discovered these experiences actually produce changes in the brain. A new medical study currently being conducted at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) in cooperation with Baylor College of Medicine uses functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to learn how deployment affects the brain and to improve treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). FMRI is a technique for measuring brain activity. It works by detecting changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity. When a brain is more active, it consumes more oxygen. To meet this increased demand, blood flow increases to the active area. FMRI can be used to produce activation maps showing which parts of the brain are involved in a particular mental process. This is a relatively new medical technique. “There is limited information regarding the brain-related changes during psychotherapy,” said Matthew Estey, a research coordinator for MEDVAMC. “We are interested in learning how psychotherapy changes neural functioning in Veterans with PTSD and anxiety disorders.” “Ultimately, we hope what we learn in our study will assist future combat Veterans who may experience PSTD and anxiety symptoms due to combat trauma,” said Wright Williams, Ph.D., the principal investigator and a psychologist. The study is funded by a pilot merit review grant sponsored by the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Program. As part of the research, eligible Veterans will use various computer applications while inside the fMRI machine. Participating Veterans will also participate in interviews regarding their past and present difficulties. They will be compensated for their time at a rate of $10 per hour for interviews and $20 per hour for fMRI scans. Participants will also receive a free high-resolution image of their brain. For Veterans who decide to enroll in the study, the entire process takes approximately 14 weeks. “Week one includes an interview and fMRI scan,” said Estey. “Weeks two through 13 involve an hour and a half group treatment meeting. Week 14 is another interview and fMRI scan. The study includes male and female treatment groups, and will potentially run through the beginning of 2013.” Eligible Veterans should be between 18 and 65 years old, free from current serious medical conditions, free of metal in their bodies, not claustrophobic, able to see a computer screen clearly with or without glasses, and diagnosed with PTSD. All participating Veterans receive on-going assessments by MEDVAMC mental health professionals. “Unlike most medical studies, this one involves treatment specifically for Veterans,” said Estey. “I think providing the best possible care for our nation’s Veterans is extremely important.” For more information about the study or how to enroll, call 713-794-7629. # # # Awarded re-designation for Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services in 2008, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center serves as the primary health care provider for more than 130,000 veterans in southeast Texas. Veterans from around the country are referred to the MEDVAMC for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery, and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases. The MEDVAMC is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; an award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; VA Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; VA Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; VA Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; and one of the VA’s six Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers. Including the outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Houston, Lufkin, Richmond, and Texas City, MEDVAMC outpatient clinics logged almost 1.3 million outpatient visits in fiscal year 2011. For the latest news releases and information about the MEDVAMC, visit www.houston.va.gov.