Recognizing the contributions of veterans and military personnel to SickKids research on Remembrance Day
Researchers at SickKids look to understand the effects of PTSD and other health concerns among Canadian military personnel and veterans.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) make many sacrifices to serve their country, which can come with long-term impacts to their health. For the past decade, researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have been working with Canadian veterans and military personnel to better understand the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), operational stress injuries (OSI) and mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) associated with their military service.
Using advanced imaging techniques to uncover underlying changes to brain function
Led by Dr. Benjamin Dunkley, Scientist in the Neurosciences & Mental Health Program and Department of Diagnostic Imaging at SickKids, the research team is using magnetoencephalography (MEG), an advanced brain imaging technique, to uncover changes to brain function that result from trauma. There are only a small number of MEG scanners in the country, and the research team is using this technique to show how the brain orchestrates cognitive processes, behaviour and emotions.
Dunkley’s most recent research, published in Translational Psychiatry, has shown that PTSD and mTBI, also known as concussion, can have overlapping and shared symptom profiles including depression, irritability and impaired concentration. This can make it difficult to diagnose and distinguish between the two conditions, despite their very different treatment approaches. Using the powerful combination of MEG imaging and artificial intelligence, Dunkley’s research team has been able to precisely distinguish the underlying patterns of brain activity to accurately identify each condition.
“Our findings could help develop precision therapies that target the altered brain activity in psychological stress and traumatic injuries that can be associated with military service. As we learn more, some of these promising new therapies could be applied to brain injuries in other patient populations including children and youth,” notes Dunkley.
The Dunkley Lab has also recently finished a larger cohort study of CAF veterans experiencing PTSD that will be used to optimize these advanced tools in an effort to discover more biomarkers of psychiatric challenges experienced by military personnel and veterans.
Improving future diagnostic techniques for PTSD and mTBI
Future studies from the SickKids team will aim to incorporate wider populations, including greater proportions of female participants and CAF members with exposure to repetitive sub-concussive events, like explosions, and multiple mTBIs. Furthermore, Dunkley’s research will attempt to differentiate between individuals who are affected by both mTBI and PTSD, and those suffering from the effects of only one of these conditions. Dunkley and his team hope this research will continue to improve diagnostic techniques for these conditions and enhance understanding of how PTSD and mTBI affect neurological function. Furthermore, that improved understanding will help identify new and emerging treatment options for both PTSD and mTBIs.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are interested in becoming a research participant may visit the Dunkley Lab website for more information. This work is supported by the Department of National Defence, Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program, MYndspan and SickKids Foundation.