As part of the largest study of mental-health risk ever done by the U.S. military, Rutgers University in New Jersey has been awarded $2.4 million to research the genetic make-up of soldiers at risk for suicide or psychological issues, the school announced Saturday.
Jay A. Tischfield, a Rutgers professor and director of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey, issued a statement in a press release about the federal grant.
“I am especially pleased that we have the opportunity to participate in efforts to improve the health of our active military and veterans,” he said. “This award may help shed light on the biological basis of these mental health risks.”
As part of the Army STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers) initiative – which is surveying the lives and mental health of 55,000 active duty soldiers – blood samples have been collected and sent to the Rutgers Cell and DNA Repositor (RUCDR).
Located in Piscataway, N.J., it is the largest repository in the world and provides DNA, RNA cell lines and genetics analytical services to research labs around the world
“The new Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine financial award will now enable scientists at Rutgers to provide data for determining if there is a genetic predisposition to the increased risk of suicide or other mental health issues,” the school said in its announcement.
Rutgers noted that while historically military suicide rates have been below those of the civilian population, the rates for soldiers have soared since 2002. From 2004 to 2008 the suicide rate of active duty military increased by 80 percent, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Command
The goal of the STARRS initiative, which began in 2009 in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health, is to determine why some soldiers are at risk for suicide and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and others are resilient to such chronic stress.
“Determining whether there is a genetic predisposition to these mental health disorders is crucial to decreasing the risk of suicide and PTSD,” Tischfield said.
The RUCDR is already involved in several genetic analysis projects, including the $10.5 million National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcoholism and Related Disorders.