$11 Million DOD Grant Funds Study of Virtual Reality and Other Therapies for PTSD
Multi-Center Clinical Trial to Recruit Military and Civilian Personnel
With PTSD Related to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
Researchers at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and the Emory University School of Medicine have been awarded an $11 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to test different ways to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including the use of virtual reality exposure therapy.
The study will involve 300 military and civilian personnel who have been diagnosed with PTSD as a consequence of their service in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The goals are to decrease the time needed for effective treatment of PTSD, give the right treatment to the right person, and identify factors involved in its development and response to treatment.
The researchers will also examine personal and genetic factors that may impact an individual’s chances of developing PTSD, as well as future response to therapy.
The grant is a culmination of years of collaborative and novel research by investigators who are known as leaders in the field. It is led by JoAnn Difede, director of the Program for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Studies at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell and Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College Co-investigators are Albert “Skip” Rizzo, associate director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) and a research professor at USC’s Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; and Barbara Rothbaum, director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.
Each group of study participants will receive two educational sessions followed by seven weekly sessions of exposure therapy — either virtual reality exposure therapy or prolonged imaginal exposure therapy.
Each group will also be randomized to receive a pill containing either the drug D-cycloserine or placebo prior to exposure therapy sessions. D-cycloserine, or DCS, is an antibiotic approved by the FDA 20 years ago to treat tuberculosis, but has also been found by researchers at Emory to speed up the kind of learning required to reconcile fearful memories.
Exposure therapy is an evidence-based treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of PTSD. The first addition of virtual reality to exposure therapy for PTSD was known as Virtual Vietnam, created by Barbara Rothbaum, which was a simple VR simulation designed to treat soldiers who served in the Vietnam War.
JoAnn Difede began using VR with burn unit patients in the 1990s, and then in 2001 she worked with Hunter Hoffman, from the University of Washington to create a Virtual World Trade Center system to treat survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
In 2003, Skip Rizzo developed Virtual Iraq to treat soldiers from the Iraq War. He initially used a modification of the ICT-developed video game Full Spectrum Warrior to create the sights, sounds, smells, even sensations, of the Iraq War — which has been continually updated to create the most sophisticated VR PTSD exposure therapy system to date.
Virtual Iraq and now Virtual Afghanistan are currently being used at 55 military, VA and university-based clinical sites.
The study will be conducted at three clinical sites: the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Intrepid Center of Excellence in the Washington, D.C. area; and the Veteran’s Administration in Long Beach, Calif., and New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell in New York city.
For more information about participation in the Southern California location for this study at the Long Beach VA Medical Center:
Phone 1 562.826.5784
For more information about the other study sites, interested parties may contact Brittany Mello by calling (212) 821-0783 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Southern California
Institute for Creative Technologies