$17 million goes to local researchers studying military PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, suicide

SAN ANTONIO – Dr. Alan Peterson is a U.S. Air Force veteran who was deployed three times.

“It was in Iraq in 2004-05. That’s when I realized the need to address the psychological wounds of war,” Peterson said.

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He landed at UT Health San Antonio, doing incredible research to help people like those with whom he served.

Peterson is now a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor and the director of the South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience, or STRONG STAR.

STRONG STAR is a national research group led by UT Health San Antonio studying the psychological health of active-duty military members and veterans.

The consortium was just granted $17 million for eight individual studies under the same umbrella.

Three of those studies are on suicide, one on traumatic brain injury (TBI), two on PTSD, and one on long-term follow-up of people who have gone through therapy.

“We’re working together. We’re asking separate questions and not duplicating. But we’re also asking similar questions of our patients so that we can combine and compare across studies,” Peterson said.

The connected work aims to fill gaps in services for overlapping conditions.

For example, explosions during combat that cause brain trauma and psychological trauma, meaning there’s a need to study how to treat both TBI and PTSD at the same time.

“One of the studies is looking specifically at tinnitus. Ringing in the ears is common for individuals that have post-traumatic stress disorder and that have had a concussion,” Peterson said.

The same type of encompassing study highlights the connection between PTSD and suicide.

“Just treating the PTSD may or may not reduce the suicide risk. So we’re looking at this combination of these treatments,” Peterson said.

One of these studies will look at the possible success of combining short-term medication and long-term therapy for suicide prevention.

“Looking at a drug called ketamine — which there’s been a lot of interest in that — we’re actually looking at what’s called an intramuscular injection of ketamine. So, it’s very inexpensive, and it can be administered in the emergency department for individuals who (are) suicidal. And we’re wanting to look at the short-term impacts on that,” Peterson said.

That same study then addresses what might happen if long-term treatments are added.

“A cognitive therapy called Crisis Response Planning — to see if that maintains suicide reduction over the longer term,” he said.

These studies are slated to start in September and will likely take about four years.

If you are looking for treatment or to participate in a current clinical trial, head to the STRONG STAR website’s treatment page.

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