University Researchers to Scan 55,000 Soldiers’ Human Genome Samples in Search for Suicide Biomarker

Rutgers Gets $2.4 Million for Military Suicide Study

by Lindy Washburn, May 28, 2012

A $2.4 million study sponsored by National Institute of Mental Health and the Army will search 55,000 samples of soldiers’ DNA in hopes of identifying a genetic biomarker for individuals at risk for suicide. The effort is part of the Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (STARRS) program.

Rutgers University has received a federal grant to study if there are genetic factors that may predispose Army soldiers to psychological problems or suicide.

The Rutgers Cell and DNA Repository will use the $2.4 million grant to collect and analyze blood samples from 55,000 active-duty soldiers. The repository, located in Piscataway, houses genetic samples from more than half a million people in a collection of 70 tanks cooled by liquid nitrogen. It is the largest such facility in the world.

The grant, received Friday, is part of an initiative launched in 2008 in response to the rising rate of suicide among active-duty soldiers as well as veterans. Called STARRS — for Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service-members — it is a joint effort of the National Institute of Mental Health and the Army. Funded through 2014, it is the largest study of mental-health risk and resilience ever conducted among military personnel.

“Never have we gone after something so quickly that’s regarded as a national crisis,” said Jay Tischfield, director of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey and a professor at Rutgers, who will lead the genetic study at Rutgers. Universities across the country are involved in the five different study components, which include survey data and historic data as well as comparisons of pre- and post-deployment mental health.

Suicide among the nation’s active-duty soldiers “has skyrocketed for reasons that are not clear,” he said. “It’s skyrocketed for women in the military for reasons that are not clear.”

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