Mapping out a better understanding of PTSD

The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research has received more than $1M to find biomarkers that could lead to better diagnosis and more personalized treatment for people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Dr. Zachary Kaminsky
Dr. Zachary Kaminsky

The research study, called Multi Dimensional Assessment of PTSD Subtypes (MAPS), aims to improve understanding of PTSD, in particular the dissociative subtype of PTSD, so it can be more easily diagnosed and more effectively treated.

Someone suffering from the dissociative subtype of PTSD (PTSD+DS) would feel detached from themselves and the world around them, making the world seem unreal or dreamlike. They may also experience emotional detachment. These dissociative types of symptoms can come in addition to other symptoms of PTSD.   

MAPS takes an expansive approach to exploring PTSD-DS.  The research team includes scientists throughout the IMHR with different areas of expertise. They will use a variety of techniques and technology to look at PTSD-DS from a whole body perspective. 

“This is really leveraging the strength of the IMHR when it comes to taking a bunch of experts, having them each do their thing and then putting it all together,” says Dr. Zachary Kaminsky, the DIFD-Mach-Gaensslen Chair in Suicide Prevention Research and the principal investigator for MAPS.  “It’s everyone’s expertise coming together that makes this such an impactful project”

The research team is also collaborating with The Royal’s Operational Stress Injury Clinic to reach out to Veterans who were willing to share their experiences and participate in the study in the hope that it can help others.

The results so far are very promising. The team studied information from 32 former Canadian Military personnel.  Looking at a multitude of factors including brain function and activity, heart rate, sleep patterns, genetics, and inflammation, they were able generate an algorithm (or a classifier model) that can predict the dissociative subtype of PTSD with 91 per cent accuracy.  

The next step for the team is to follow more study participants (the study focuses on Canadian Forces Veterans) over a longer period of time to find what Kaminsky terms “more clinically useful information”. 

The research team will look at things like who improved with what treatments and whose symptoms got worse.  They will assess how this relates to biological information gathered through sleep studies, cardiac monitoring using wearable technology, brain imaging at The Royal’s state of the art Brain Imagining Centre, and other research activities.    

The end goal is to be able to create predictive diagnostics and enable personalized medicine that improves the chances of recovery for people with PTSD-DS.

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MAPS team members

The MAPS team includes Dr. Zachary Kaminsky (Principal Investigator), Dr. Jakov Shlik, Dr. Rebecca Robillard, Dr. Natalia Jaworska, , Dr. Robyn McQuaid, Dr. Clifford Cassidy.

MAPS is funded by the Government of Canada’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) project under the project name “Identification and translation of a whole body biosignature to improve clinical management of PTSD subtypes”.

Transforming Lives Through Research

Dr. Georg Northoff

Using A.I. to gain a better understanding of our brains