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Department of Defense grant boosts PTSD research

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Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and the University of Southern California have been awarded an $11 million Department of Defense grant to test two different types of exposure therapy combined with the drug D-Cycloserine (DCS) for the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Exposure therapy is an evidence-based intervention that has been demonstrated as effective in the treatment of PTSD. During each exposure therapy session, patients repeatedly retell their traumatic experience with the guidance of a trained clinician. D-Cycloserine, a cognitive enhancer, has been found by Emory researchers to facilitate the extinction of fear that occurs during exposure therapy.

PTSD can develop after a person has experienced a traumatic event in which either that individual or someone else’s life was in serious danger. The symptoms can cause significant problems in relationships, work productivity, and everyday functioning. If symptoms go untreated there is a substantial risk for developing additional mental health problems, such as drug or alcohol abuse.

The study will involve military and civilian personnel who have been diagnosed with PTSD as a consequence of their service in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The goal of the trial is to decrease the time of effective treatment for PTSD, give the right treatment to the right person and identify factors involved in its development and response to treatment.

The researchers will also examine personal and genetic factors that may impact an individual’s chances of developing PTSD.

Researchers will enroll 300 participants randomized to treatment condition. Each participant will receive two educational sessions followed by seven weekly sessions of exposure therapy – either virtual reality exposure therapy (VRE), or prolonged imaginal exposure therapy (PE).  Each participant will also be randomized to receive a pill containing either DCS or placebo prior to exposure therapy sessions. 

Investigators for this multi-center trial include lead investigator JoAnn Difede, PhD, director of the Program for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Studies at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell and Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College; Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD, associate director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and research professor at USC, and Barbara Rothbaum, PhD, director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.

The study is being conducted at three clinical sites:  Difede at NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell in New York city; Rizzo with the Veteran’s Administration in Long Beach, Calif., and Rothbaum with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Intrepid Center of Excellence in the Washington, D.C. area.

Awarding of this grant is a result of the culmination of years of collaborative and novel research by these investigators, who are known as leaders in the field.

For more information about participation in the study contact Mark Burton at or 404-727-3662.

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