Neuroscientist Leads Military Personnel Stress Disorder Project

Published on in CHOP News

March 15, 2012 — A CHOP researcher is leading a collaborative, federally funded study to help veterans and active-duty service members better deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress-related conditions. The project, involving scientists from CHOP and Penn Medicine, aims to discover new treatments as well as to identify biomarkers — measurable biological substances such as hormone levels — that indicate a person’s resilience to stress. Their findings may also have the potential to benefit a broader group of patients, including children and families dealing with stress-related health problems.

Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, a neuroscientist in CHOP’s Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, is the principal investigator of a $3.5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the U.S. Department of Defense. Dr. Bhatnagar is collaborating with scientists from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in studying patients from the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and other military institutions.

Dr. Bhatnagar and her colleagues at CHOP’s Stress Neurobiology Division have researched how differences in brain circuitry affect how animals react to stressful situations. They performed some of this preclinical work in earlier phases of the DARPA grant. Their new study aims to continue to validate their findings in animal models and to translate their basic science findings into human populations. For example, they are studying whether biomarkers may help predict which people are more likely to be resistant to developing PTSD when exposed to chronic stress.

“We are studying how to improve stress resilience in military personnel,” said Dr. Bhatnagar. “Our goal is to identify novel treatments for stress, particularly for PTSD. Our findings may apply to people in non-military situations as well.”

In addition to its Division of Stress Neurobiology, CHOP has clinical resources devoted to stress. For instance, multidisciplinary researchers at CHOP’s Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress develop medical interventions for stress-related problems in children and families who have experienced car crashes and serious illnesses.

Read more about CHOP’s Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress.


John Ascenzi, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 267-426-6055,