New blood test could detect PTSD in troops

New blood test could detect PTSD in troops


About 11% to 20% of U.S. veterans of recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in any given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in veterans from recent wars, including Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, ranges as high as 30.9 percent, compared to about 7% in the general population, the agency reported. Many PTSD cases in Soldiers also result from noncombat experiences.

The U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Army Research Office have sponsored research to develop a blood test to quickly screen large populations for Soldiers who may be suffering from or susceptible to PTSD, and so far, the results are promising, the journal Molecular Psychiatry reported in September 2019.

Investigators from leading medical schools and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) are collaborating on the work that seeks to help doctors diagnose Soldiers with PTSD. The team of researchers sorted through a massive list of a million possible blood markers for physiological changes caused by PTSD. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning applications in part to decipher patterns, they identified 27 possible chemical indicators that can detect the condition when combined with heart rate measurements.

“The Army’s concern is that Soldiers tend not to report, and they don’t want to have PTSD,” Marti Jett, the chief scientist in systems biology for USAMRDC, told The Wall Street Journal newspaper. “If we can begin to correct those things early enough, it helps to avert the self-isolation that is a major concern early on.”

The screening method has proven to be about 77% accurate so far but needs further refinements and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before it would be widely used. Once FDA approval is garnered, the test would be used in combination with clinical examinations to confirm such a diagnosis. 

“We didn’t design this line of research to replace clinicians or to replace an in-depth clinical assessment,” Dr. Charles Marmar, chair of the school of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and senior study author, told  The Wall Street Journal.  “We developed it for a  high-throughput screening.”

With additional improvements, the test could also be used to identify individuals who may be susceptible to PTSD. Marmar explained that the research team will use the test on large military and civilian populations before submitting it for FDA approval. “There will be attempts to validate these same markers in civilian contexts, such as for disaster victims, sexual assault survivors or industrial accident survivors,” he told Scientific American magazine.