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PTSD and Respiratory Illness: A Signature Long-Term Problem of 9/11 Responders

WTC Health Program Receives $4 Million in new federal funding to access the intersection between mental and physical health in responders from 9/11

STONY BROOK, N.Y., September 10, 2014 – According to the findings from research conducted over the past several years at Stony Brook Medicine’s World Trade Center Health Program, as many as 60 percent of 9/11 World Trade Center responders continue to experience clinically significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and lower respiratory illness.

Benjamin Luft, MD

Benjamin Luft, MD, Medical Director of the program and the Edmund D. Pellegrino Professor of Medicine,  says that that the two conditions so often coexist (known as comorbidity) in this patient community that together they can be thought of as one ailment—a signature illness of WTC responders. This illness, he and his colleagues contend, increases their disability and complicates long-term medical monitoring and care.

“Now more than 10 years after 9/11, the connection between mental and physical illnesses among responders appears stronger,” said Dr. Luft. “This connection raises important questions about the mechanisms underlying the PTSD and respiratory illness relationship. The next step in our research is to determine how comorbid physical and mental conditions impact the progression of clinical disease and genetic changes in these responders.”

Together, Drs. Luft and his colleagues in the Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry, Drs. Evelyn Bromet, Adam Gonzalez, and Roman Kotov, are working on five new research projects to evaluate the extent of mental and physical illness in hundreds of responders. Ultimately, the goal is to identify a causal pathway that links the two diseases, in order to identify biomarkers that can be targets for diagnosis and treatment.

Over the next two years, the WTC Health Program will receive approximately $4 million in funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to carry out this research.

“It is alarming see our World Trade Center responders suffer from a combination of debilitating psychiatric and physical conditions affecting both their quality and duration of life,” said Dr. Luft. “We hope new data will help us to treat and monitor them more effectively in the long-term.”


Reporter Contact: 
Gregory Filiano
Stony Brook Medicine Media Relations Manager
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