Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 28th 2017 Contents A26 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Friday, April 28, 2017
Today concludes a look at in-
tergenerational trauma, explor-
ing the case of Christal Presley
who though born years after her
father returned from the Vietnam
War, exhibited symptoms of post
traumatic stress disorder.
Searching for answers on PTSD
By unraveling the link between ge-
netics and mental illness, researchers
hope to find new ways to diagnose,
prevent and treat disorders like PTSD,
Harvard professor Karestan Koenen
While the research is still in its early
stages, Koenen and her colleagues---
some of whom hold patents and have
ties to pharmaceutical companies---
hope that they might one day identi-
fy new targets for drug development.
Because of the potential genetic overlap
with other psychiatric conditions, like
schizophrenia, researchers are also on
the lookout for shared pathways.
They also hope to find molecules that
might allow doctors to measure and
track the progress of mental illness.
These molecules are known as bio-
"Everybody has been searching for
biomarkers for PTSD, but maybe the
inability to find a single biomarker is
because you have to stratify people ac-
cording to their genetics," said Yehuda.
But looking at genetic risk has not
been without some controversy, she
"People criticised me like you can't
imagine," Yehuda said. "The minute
you throw in that it's not about the
trauma, (people worry that) we're
jeopardising veterans' benefits, torts
cases, victims' rights---it has to be
about the event."
"You couldn't stay on that perch too
long," she added. "There's too many
individual differences in responses (to
For example, some studies have
linked PTSD to the size of different
parts of the brain. Other studies have
looked at different proteins and stress
hormones. But not all studies find the
same results, and researchers have not
been able to fully explain the mix of
"Maybe genetics can help us clean
that up a bit," said Yehuda.
However, some experts caution that
focusing too much on common genetic
variants may not have the therapeutic
payoff these researchers are hoping for.
"There is this open-ended ques-
tion, 'Is it therapeutically meaning-
ful to target (these variants)?' " said
Jeremy Willsey, a geneticist at Univer-
sity of California, San Francisco who
studies the link between genetics and
other neuropsychiatric disorders, like
autism. Willsey was not involved in the
Willsey's research at UCSF focus-
es instead on rare genes, not com-
mon ones. While common genes as a
group may have a greater impact on
our health, he said, some researchers
suspect that each rare variant holds
more weight by itself.
"Rare variants are not going to be
present in every patient, but the effect
is going to be higher," he said, adding
that neither set of genes tells the whole
story by itself.
"At the end of the day ... what is re-
ally necessary is a complete picture of
both common and rare variants so that
we can have an integrated understand-
ing of the biology."
In 2012, Presley wrote a memoir ti-
tled Thirty Days with My Father about a
series of interviews she conducted with
her veteran father in order to come to
terms with their pasts.
After she published the book, re-
sponses from veterans' families came
"It was such a huge epiphany to
me that I wasn't alone," Presley said.
"There has been such a focus on vet-
erans and PTSD in the media, which is
great, but somehow the missing piece
is how that PTSD also affects a person's
Presley said that, through her dif-
ficult experiences, there have been
As a schoolteacher, for example, she
said that her "hypersensitivity" has al-
lowed her to read her students and be
a more effective educator.
"It was like I was born with that,"
she said. "I have worked in some of the
most challenging schools in Georgia,
and I do not have classroom manage-
ment problems because of my ability
to read situations before they happen.
That's been a huge positive that has
come out of this."
Harvard's Koenen also comes from a
military family. Her grandfather served
in World War II, and her father served
in Vietnam. Her cousin entered the
military right out of high school and
was sent to Iraq, where he developed
"He never thought he'd be deployed,"
Koenen said. "It really changed the
course of his life."
But Koenen's cousin has found some
hope in her research, she said.
"It just makes him feel really encour-
aged that perhaps future generations
of soldiers and veterans won't have
to suffer as much as he has," she said.
Soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War in 1966. Could they have passed on their trauma to their children?
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