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University of North Carolina researchers to lead major, first-in-kind study of development of posttraumatic neurologic and mental health disorders. Uses new approaches to achieve discoveries for veterans and civilian trauma survivors. Awarded $21 million for AURORA Study.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – More than 2.6 million servicemen and women have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. Posttraumatic stress, depression, chronic regional and widespread pain, and/or traumatic brain injury symptoms are common among these veterans, and are also common among civilian trauma survivors. The National Institutes of Health, in response to an executive order from President Obama to initiate major research efforts to better understand and treat these disorders, has just funded the most comprehensive longitudinal study of trauma survivors ever performed.

This 21 million dollar study, the AURORA Study, will utilize the efforts of 19 institutions and over 40 scientists. Trauma survivors will be enrolled in the immediate aftermath of trauma and followed longitudinally for one year. Sophisticated adaptive sampling methods will be used to perform a comprehensive, state-of-the-art assessment of genomic, neuroimaging, physiologic, neurocognitive, psychophysical, behavioral, and self-report markers.

In addition to its unparalleled scope, the study differs from previous studies in that it will broadly assess for adverse effects of trauma rather than focus on only one or a few diseases. “We want to be patient-centered and not diagnosis-centered,” said Samuel McLean, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at UNC and lead principal investigator of the study. McLean continued, “We also recognize that a trauma survivor with depression, who also has a lot of posttraumatic stress symptoms and traumatic brain injury symptoms, is likely to be a lot different in terms of underlying biology than a trauma survivor with depression alone. We believe that only by looking at an individual globally can we achieve great advances in treatment.”

Aurora LogoThe study will not use traditional symptom checklists to define illness, and instead will use the wealth of biologic data collected to create new diagnostic categories. “Assessing biologic and physiologic processes directly, during the critical period of time after trauma when these disorders develop, is the best way to gain the breakthroughs in understanding that we need to prevent and treat these outcomes”, said McLean. Another major goal of the study is to develop tools that clinicians in emergency departments, military hospitals, and military aid stations can use at the bedside to identify trauma survivors at high risk of persistent sufferings. Such tools are urgently needed, so that trauma survivors at high risk can be identified for early preventive treatments.

McLean and colleagues are currently pursuing additional foundation and philanthropic support. “Twenty one million dollars sounds like a heck of a lot of money, and it is, but given the very high costs of the latest science – comprehensive molecular, neuroimaging, and bioinformatic methods – we actually need to leverage these public dollars with private support so that we can take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to advance care for veterans and civilian survivors of traumas such as sexual assault.” This study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, and will be based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To learn more about this important study click the following link