After more than a decade of war, it's become readily apparent that post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most pressing issues facing servicemembers upon their return home from the battlefield. An estimated 20 percent of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD symptoms, and it can have a far-reaching impact on everything from their personal lives to their physical health, but new research suggests it may be preventable. Scientists from Emory University believe they have developed a drug that could alleviate many of the common symptoms associated with the disorder, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Mice hold the key
The findings are based on an extensive analysis of mice that had been subjected to a traumatic experience. Afterward, researchers administered a drug targeted at the receptors in the brain that respond to fear. The team found that mice who had been treated with the drug, which focused on a gene known as OPRL1, experienced less fear once they underwent a similar traumatic experience. Interestingly, researchers found that humans with a specific kind of OPRL1 also exhibited symptoms of PTSD. Experts hope that targeting this gene could provide a breakthrough in treating the condition.
Some experts are critical
Although some are hailing the findings as a success, others are not quite as convinced. Specifically, there are concerns surrounding what impact targeting the fear centers of the brain could have on a soldier's safety. Some point to the fact that feelings of fear keep troops vigilant in some instances.
"Some of these responses are there to protect the body and mind," neuroscientist Rachel Yehuda told the TImes. "I am not sure that I would want a soldier in the field to go to combat without his fear response, because this might actually kill him."
A problem that needs addressing
The findings highlight the pressing need to understand and treat PTSD, and it's one that has received a considerable amount of attention in recent weeks and months. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama asked for an additional $235 million in his proposed budget to study mental health, according to ABC News. He also opened a conference earlier this week to address the issue, and help remove some of the stigma attached to mental illnesses.