Shedding Light on Something We Cannot See

Shedding Light on Something We Cannot See

By: Dr. Tamar Rodney

When someone asks about my research, it’s easy to say the title but most people get lost in the jargon: “Biomarkers for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Military Personnel and Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries.” Strip away the complex words and what’s left is the search for ways to improve the lives of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. My research is based on evidence suggesting that changes in the body’s immune system after a physical injury may be related to an increased risk of developing PTSD symptoms. My goal is to find a way to help these individuals earlier, to figure out ways to assess them better for PTSD symptoms, and give them the right treatment.

So how do we do this? That is the million dollar question I will most likely spend my career trying to answer. It is why I pore over hundreds of articles, learn new clinical techniques, and collaborate with the best minds.

So first let’s be honest: PTSD is difficult to identify and treat, and there are few medication options. The real trouble however, lies within the everyday problems for individuals who live with this disorder. It might be months before individuals who have gone through a horrific physical or emotional experience start having nightmares, avoiding their favorite activities, or getting frightened easily. They may feel ashamed or even blame themselves for feeling this way. And it could be frightening because the person may not know what is happening, why it is happening, or when the next overwhelming experience might occur. Patients may not report their symptoms for years, which can lead to deadly consequences.

PTSD impacts an individual’s family and friends, and their ability to have normal social or work experiences. The impact is different for everyone, and unlike a physical scar or injury, you can’t see PTSD.

My research investigates military personnel and Veterans with brain injuries. Evidence from animal models (rats and mice) suggests that inflammation following a brain injury (or other physical injury) is a risk factor for PTSD symptoms, challenging the traditional view that PTSD is an emotional response to a terrible experience. While there will be differences in humans, these animal studies have consistently identified inflammation as significantly related to risk of developing PTSD symptoms following brain injury. We hope to identify proteins in the blood that are related to inflammation that could indicate who is at risk. Ultimately, we want to identify people at risk earlier and reduce their symptoms by giving them the right drug, the right therapy, and explaining to them what might be happening.

The results so far have been promising. Our ultimate hope is to use the proteins we identify to make a panel that could predict PTSD risk. I am excited, (if one can be about research) about the impact this could have, the lives we could changes, and the lives we could save.

The power of clinical research is that we can shed light on something we cannot see. The dream is to give hope to individuals who are suffering.


Tamar Rodney, PhD, RN, PMHNP-BC, CNE is a board-certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and has practiced as a nurse in numerous patient settings and multiple countries. Her dissertation work focused on biomarkers for PTSD in military personnel and Veterans who have had brain injuries. Tamar has had extensive laboratory training at the National Institutes of Nursing Research (NINR) tissue injury branch, where she has analyzed different proteins related to brain injuries. She also serves as the Executive Director of the International Network for Doctoral Education in Nursing and is a Geneva Foundation/Jonas Veterans Healthcare Scholar.


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