A Message from CEO & President Dr. Magali Haas – Veterans Brain Health Progress Report
This Veterans Day, Cohen Veterans Bioscience (CVB) pauses to give thanks to all active military and Veterans across America for their service to this country. While we rightly honor their sacrifices on November 11, CVB remains committed to ensuring that the challenges our Veterans face long after they take off the uniform are prioritized every day. This includes finding new solutions for the “invisible wounds of war”. Our nation’s Veterans continue to experience disproportionately high rates of suicide. CVB is committed to finding new solutions for individuals diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are major risk factors for suicide.
This Veterans Day, I’m delighted to share some of the progress we are making towards our goal of a next generation of personalized therapeutics for the brain trauma-related conditions that currently affect so many of our heroes. Despite the limitations of the pandemic, we are pleased to report that our scientific research and advocacy for our nation’s Veterans has continued, with 2020 proving to be a year of advancements for Veterans’ brain health.
A Blueprint for Advancing Traumatic Brain Injury Solutions
Over the course of the past 18 months, our team has led a collaborative roadmapping initiative aimed at assessing the state of science and development for TBI personalized therapeutics. We gathered thought leaders across research, clinical care, industry and government to landscape current knowledge, identify research gaps , and craft recommendations for how to drive an aggressive agenda for advancing diagnostics and treatments – a blueprint. This blueprint with recommendations will soon be published and shared with researchers, policymakers, and partner organizations to guide and inform their efforts so that we can collectively take the necessary steps to diagnose and treat TBIs earlier and more effectively. Read the proceedings from the event here.
A New Generation of Biomarkers for PTSD
Through our funding and collaboration with Stanford University professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Amit Etkin, MD, PhD, we’ve discovered and replicated a critical new biomarker that could identify PTSD patient subtypes and predict treatment response. Using electroencephalography (EEG)—a specialized technique where a cap is placed on a person’s head to measure electrical activity in the brain (brainwaves)—researchers were able to identify two distinct subtypes of PTSD patients based on differences in their brain activity, though they did not otherwise differ in terms of clinical symptoms. This may indicate that different subgroups have different underlying mechanisms, that would be critical to understand for targeting treatments. The brainwave biomarker was also present in subtypes of major depressive disorder, suggesting its potential as a transdiagnostic biomarker for both PTSD and major depressive disorder (MDD). Importantly, the same biomarker was found to predict treatment response for these individuals. These findings show that biomarkers can help us better diagnose and treat complex conditions such as PTSD and MDD and may help guide patients to the right treatment path.
Advocacy to Support Veterans
In 2020, CVB has continued to advocate for policy changes that remove barriers to improving Veterans’ brain health. We extended our commitment with the National Association of Veterans Research and Education Foundation (NAVREF) and the VA Office of Research and Development (ORD)-led Partnered Research Program (PRP) to increase Veterans’ access to leading-edge clinical trials at the VA through the “100 Days Faster” initiative. Endorsed by NAVREF and ORD and launched through the Coalition to Heal Invisible Wounds (co-founded by CVB), two of the “100 Days Faster” initiative’s key priorities were incorporated into the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. This new law, which was signed by the President in October, will provide new avenues for data-driven biomarker discovery, expand access to innovative mental health care and increase investments in suicide prevention.
22 Jumps for Suicide Awareness
Our nation’s Veterans continue to experience disproportionately high rates of suicide. CVB is committed to finding new solutions for individuals diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are major risk factors for suicide. We are honored that Veteran Tristan Wimmer has selected us again to partner in raising awareness and funding to better understand the “invisible wounds of war” through his 22 BASE Jumps awareness campaign. You can hear from Tristan and our Veterans’ Advisory Council Chair, Frank Larkin, as they discuss the difficulties they faced as family members and suicide survivors of Veterans who took their life following a brain trauma and why they have chosen to collaborate with our organization. Tristan is also planning more 22 BASE Jumps events in 2021.
In the update that follows, we will share perspectives from honored Veterans and additional highlights from our research programs that have the potential to improve the lives of Veterans and their families.
In partnership with our research collaborators, we will continue to place Veterans at the center of solutions and focus our efforts on biomarker discovery, data science, modeling, and technology platforms for diagnosing and treating trauma-related brain disorders. We will continue to update you on our progress and new collaboration opportunities. To learn more, visit our website and follow us on social media.
We thank you for your involvement in our organization and for your dedication to those who have served our country. Together…we will go further.
Magali Haas, MD, PhD
CEO & President
Cohen Veterans Bioscience