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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Returning Combat Veterans Wanted for New PTSD Study

December 10, 2012

Researchers at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) and Baylor College of Medicine are currently looking for returning combat Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who are interested in participating in a study testing a new medication in conjunction with exposure therapy.

The study focuses on the use of an anti-hypertension medication to determine if it reduces the effects of PTSD-related symptoms.

This double-blind study involves participants receiving either the study medication or a placebo, and gradually increasing the dose over time. The Veteran will then undergo exposure therapy, such as an Iraq/Afghanistan virtual reality computer simulation, to determine an optimal dosage. Healthcare providers are hoping the results of this experiment will not only reduce the effects of many PTSD related symptoms, but also try to prevent them.

“Under an extremely controlled situation, we can get a much better sense if the medication is working and under what specific dosage is needed in order for it to be more effective,” said Thomas F. Newton, M.D., a MEDVAMC staff physician in the Research Care Line and an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “This is intended to be a more efficient way of quickly learning what we need to know.”

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that can be caused by any traumatic event such as war, a car accident, abuse, or a natural disaster.  It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters). People who have these kinds of experiences sometimes begin to suffer flashbacks, bad memories or dreams, extreme irritability, trouble sleeping, along with other difficulties.

Not all victims of trauma suffer from PTSD, but those who do may begin to experience these symptoms immediately after the event, several months, or even years later. Since PTSD symptoms can be so disabling, potentially causing depression or even suicide, it is important that researchers develop effective PTSD treatments.

Treatment options currently available for PTSD are limited. The most common and effective treatment involves a combination of talk therapy and psychotropic medications, such as anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. Unfortunately, many patients suffering from PTSD symptoms do not respond well to antidepressant medication.

Over the years, researchers have studied PTSD to try to understand the underlying brain processes. It is believed symptoms may be caused by elevated levels of a Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH acts as a chemical messenger in the brain and controls the release of cortisol and other hormones named catecholamines. Cortisol is known as the "fight or flight" hormone. Research has shown higher levels of cortisol may actually hurt the brain and be linked to PTSD symptoms.

“The goal for this study is to determine if this new medicine is likely to be an effective form of treatment for PTSD,” said Newton. “If we determine that it is likely to be effective - because it does block the increased CRH levels from exposure to images that cause increased emotional arousal - we hope to conduct a much larger study in a clinic trial.”

Researchers are currently looking for returning combat Veterans who served between 1990 and 2011. If you are between the ages of 18 and 55 years, have experienced PTSD symptoms in the past month, and do not have any current substance abuse, you may be eligible for the study. The study lasts two weeks and is conducted at MEDVAMC and Baylor College of Medicine. It involves completing questionnaires, interviews, and computer assessments, Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, and receiving medication (Doxazosin XL) or placebo (sugar pill) intended to reduce the severity of the symptoms of PTSD. Participants will receive compensation for their time.

For more information and how to enroll, please call toll-free 1-877-228-5777.