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Distinguishing Traumatic Brain Injury from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Attempts are being made at the New York University School of Medicine to distinguish Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Frequently there is overlap between the symptoms caused by both of these conditions and clinicians often must rely on self-reports from patients.

The New York Times reports that one of the largest studies of its kind is being undertaken by a team of researchers based out of New York University’s medical school have begun a five-year study to find biological signals, known as biomarkers, that could provide reliable, objective evidence of those so-called invisible injuries of war.

The NYU project is significant both because of its size — researchers hope to recruit 1,500 subjects and because much of its financing is already guaranteed through a $17 million grant from the Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation, founded by the billionaire hedge-fund manager.

The Times reports that biomarkers are physiological road signs that can tell doctors whether a person has a disease or injury, or is likely to contract a particular ailment. Tissue damaged by a heart attack releases chemicals into the blood that can be detected. Abnormal levels of the proteins amyloid and tau, as well as shrinkage of certain areas of the brain, are considered markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

The lack of reliable markers for PTSD and mild T.B.I. has had significant consequences, experts say. Without clear-cut tests to spot them early, the disorders can go undetected until symptoms become disabling. Misdiagnoses readily occur, leading to ineffective or even damaging treatments. Beyond confirming or debunking diagnoses, dependable biomarkers could also be used to determine whether treatments for PTSD or T.B.I. are effective.

The subjects will undergo a diverse battery of tests to analyze hormone levels, blood chemistry, genetic makeup, brain structure and even voices. One team will use magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain structures of healthy people with those of people with PTSD. Another team will use brain imaging to test a theory that abnormalities in the thalamus, a part of the central brain that acts as a switchboard for nerve signals, are an indication of head trauma. Other researchers will look for biomarkers in genes, blood and hormones. One group will even analyze audio recordings of speech to see whether evidence of PTSD can be found in the pitch, timber and tone of voices.

You can read the full New York Times article by clicking here.

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