Newly Discovered Biomarker Could Help Prevent and Treat PTSD

Promising research gives new hope to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
February 28, 2020

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of those mental health terms that people have started throwing around conversationally (like saying a tidy person “has OCD”), but for those who live with it, it’s not something they take lightly. For some people — myself included — clinical PTSD means dealing with constant, disruptive flashbacks and graphic nightmares that can make you dread going to sleep. So when I read about new research that could help prevent and treat PTSD, I was eager to learn more. 

The study, conducted by researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation discovered the first biomarker unique to people with PTSD. And better yet, they have also created a peptide that has shown promise in a preclinical trial for both preventing and treating the mental health condition.

Specifically, the scientists found that there is a certain protein complex that appears in elevated levels in people with PTSD. Using that data, they were able to formulate a peptide that could be used to target and eliminate the protein. In early tests, the researchers found that the peptide prevented fear-based memories from being recalled. Scientists working on this project hope that this peptide could one day be used to treat PTSD symptoms and prevent them manifesting in the first place.

“We believe this protein complex normally increases after severe stress, but in most cases, levels soon go back to baseline levels. However, in those who develop PTSD, the protein complex remains persistently elevated, and so this could be a blood-based biomarker for PTSD as well as being a target for pharmacological treatment,” Fang Liu, Ph.D., a senior scientist and head of Molecular Neuroscience in CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, said in a statement. “In addition, the peptide we developed could be given after a traumatic event, and could possibly prevent the patient from developing PTSD. This is a completely new approach to PTSD and for psychiatric disorders in general.”

At this point, CAMH has filed patents for the peptide and diagnostic aspect of this discovery. Though Liu and her team are still in the early days of their research, they plan to do additional testing on the peptide, as well as refining its formulation, before beginning human trials.

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

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This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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