Finding the best ways to prevent and treat psychological health problems in military service members, veterans, and first responders

Genomics & Basic Science Core


Douglas E. Williamson, PhD
Duke University and Durham VA Medical Center, Durham, NC

The STRONG STAR Genomics and Basic Science Core (GBSC) helps meet the overarching goals of the Consortium in two key ways:

  • supporting the efforts of STRONG STAR studies that have a genetic or basic science component involving the collection and analysis of biological specimens; and
  • collecting and properly maintaining biologic samples from all STRONG STAR treatment study participants to facilitate future research questions that arise from STRONG STAR investigations.

The GBSC’s main objective is to provide support for the collection, processing, analysis, and storage of all biologic samples acquired and maintained by the Consortium. As part of these activities, the GBSC focuses on the measurement of several biomarkers – or biological indicators – of risk for PTSD development, including genomic (DNA), transcriptomic (RNA), and proteomic (e.g., cytokines) markers. These measurements are instrumental to several ongoing STRONG STAR investigations, including a study led by Dr. Douglas E. Williamson on genetic and environmental contributions to combat-related PTSD and a study led by Dr. John Roache that includes a component on genetic predictors of response to treatment for comorbid PTSD and alcoholism.

In addition, the GBSC will be collecting blood samples of STRONG STAR treatment study participants at baseline (before treatment) and at 6-month follow-up (after treatment) in order to examine potential predictors of treatment response.

Finally, the GBSC is collecting, labeling, and banking biologic samples for the STRONG STAR Repository in order to make samples available for future use to investigators outside of the STRONG STAR Consortium. Toward this end, the GBSC, in conjunction with the STRONG STAR Administrative Core, is developing an organizational structure and system for storage of specimens that will make them accessible upon request.

About the GBSC Director

Douglas E. Williamson, PhD, is the Dielmann Professor of Genetic and Environmental Risk and Director of the Genetic Epidemiology Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The primary focus of the Genetic Epidemiology Program is on understanding the role genes and environment play in the onset and maintenance of psychiatric disorders emerging across the lifespan. A sampling of the research projects with which he is involved show the expertise he brings to the STRONG STAR Consortium:

  • A large-scale translational epidemiologic study examining the genetic, environmental, and brain-system contributions to adolescent-onset depression and alcohol use disorders.
  • An investigation on the importance of exposure to stressful life events during early adolescence as they moderate the familial-genetic risk for depression.
  • A study exploring genetic variation of the corticotrophin releasing hormone receptor 1 as it moderates the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis response and its relationship to one’s risk of developing depression and alcohol use disorders.
  • Nonhuman primate research to identify the underlying genetic pathways for anxious/fearful behaviors and alcohol sensitivity.
  • A study examining psychosocial stressors in pregnant women and stress-related biomarkers (e.g. cytokines/cortisol) that impact the pregnant woman and her developing fetus.