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Veterans Day: supporting those who served our country

Today the U.S. celebrates Veterans Day, and Americans across the country honor the sacrifices and service of the armed forces.

As the face of the U.S. veteran continues to change with every war, the University of Minnesota has joined research institutions across the nation in working to support those who served our country through new, innovative research.

Returning to U.S. soil after serving in the military during wartime can bring a whole new set of challenges for veterans to face. Here are a few ways the University of Minnesota is working to improve the lives of active and retired military:

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news-and-notes

University of Minnesota researcher appointed Anderson Chair in PTSD Research

Brian Engdahl, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology at the Brain Sciences Center at the University of Minnesota and psychologist and clinician investigator at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, has been appointed the Anderson Chair in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Research at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

The Anderson Chair helps understand and heal the psychological scars that often haunt veterans as they return home from service. The $2 million gift honors the late William Lewis Anderson, a combat medic who died trying to save a wounded soldier on the battlefield in World War II.

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research-and-clinical-trials

University of Minnesota researchers find biomarker of resilience in veterans exposed to trauma

New research conducted at the Brain Sciences Center of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and the University of Minnesota shows that the brain can actively adapt in response to potentially traumatic events (PTEs). This neural adaptation to trauma is a biomarker of resilience. People who develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in response to trauma have yet to experience this neural adaptation.

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patient-care

For PTSD patients, a diagnosis can be as important as treatment

For some veterans, coming home can be hard. It can be even harder after serving in the military overseas during wartime. Often, returning soldiers have difficulty transitioning back to civilian life.

Making it even more difficult is the potential for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder that many soldiers will battle but won’t admit to having for fear of what others may think of them.

But now, diagnosis – and then treatment – of PTSD is becoming a lot less difficult.

Thanks to Apostolos Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., Regents Professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Neuroscience, and Brian Engdahl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University’s Brain Sciences Center, PTSD can be identified with 97 percent accuracy with the use of a magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine.

The MEG machine, housed at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, may look fairly basic, but it’s the most accurate and safest tool to test for PTSD. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of them out there.  With only an estimated 60 MEG machines in existence worldwide, Georgopoulos and Engdahl have been busy.

In fact, in the last four years they’ve scanned more than 700 brains, which is more than all other MEG machines in the world combined. With the help of the MEG machine, Georgopoulos and Engdahl are now able to identify what they call a “PTSD stamp” after finding it in 72 out of 74 brain scans examined during a recent clinical trial.

As a result, the researchers now have solid evidence that PTSD is a real disorder, giving veterans and their families some solace in the fact that there was truth behind what they’d been experiencing; some for many years.

With Georgopoulos’ and Engdahl’s help, American veterans can identify and treat PTSD without fear of being perceived as weak.

“This MEG scan gives us some perspective that this is a real problem and a real disorder,” said Georgopoulos.  “And with a diagnosis can come the potential for treatment, which is the ultimate goal.”

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expert-perspectives

Can dogs have PTSD, too?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t officially recognized in dogs. The idea that an animal could suffer from PTSD first arose about two years ago when military veterinarians began noticing that dogs who had been exposed to gunfire and explosions were exhibiting worrisome behavior, said the New York Times.

The problem of proving canine PTSD’s existence lies mainly in accurately diagnosing whether an animal is suffering from the effects of stress induced by trauma. Dogs, like humans, can exhibit a spectrum of PTSD symptoms ranging from agitation to troubles sleeping that can be difficult to specifically categorize.

To Margaret Duxbury, D.V.M., a specialist in animal behavior and assistant clinical professor in Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota, a dog suffering from PTSD isn’t mentally who he was before a traumatic case of abuse, neglect, car accident, tornado or other weather event.

Duxbury, in fact, has a file filled with past cases of dogs she believes have shown signs of PTSD.

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