"Proud to serve our nation's heroes." That is what the
electronic sign in front of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near the
Emory campus frequently reads, and no one believes that more than the
Emory medical faculty who comprise virtually all the medical staff at
the center. In addition to providing state-of-the-art clinical care for
the veterans seen there, Emory has made the Atlanta facility one of the
nation's top 10 VA centers in research dollars received. That's
good for the hospital, bringing in both medical expertise and financial
support, but it is especially good for veterans of past and present conflicts.
One of 158 VAMCs in the country, the Atlanta facility has 173 hospital
beds and 100 nursing home beds.
VA Medical Center is well known for its work in prostheses for
veterans who have lost hands or limbs. Now the VA is working with the
Emory Eye Center on an expanded clinical trial to see if implantation
of a retina microchip can improve functional vision or at least slow progressive
vision loss in people with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). People with this
hereditary disease usually develop night blindness in childhood. As young
adults, their peripheral vision begins to narrow, progressing over many
years to tunnel vision and finally blindness. The retina microchip is
designed to stimulate retinal cells damaged by RP and possibly other retinal
conditions, producing visual signals similar to those produced by the
retina's photoreceptor layer. Early studies showed a modest effect
in animals and proved the chips safe in human patients. It's too
soon to know how well the implant will work in the patients in the more
advanced trial now under way, but it's only one of many joint efforts
intended to help veterans and other patients get the advanced medical
care they deserve, now and in the future.
Almost one in five Iraq veterans is estimated to be at risk for post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs believes
that the lifetime prevalence among Vietnam war veterans is even higher.
Although the memories behind PTSD will never go away, Emory researchers
have developed a new treatment combining virtual reality therapy with
a drug that binds to the neurotransmitter receptors in the part of the
brain with mechanisms governing the fear response. Rodent studies at the
Yerkes National Primate Research Center found that the combination therapy
had a positive effect on the extinction of fear, and the first human trial
of the therapy was highly effective against fear of heights. Now psychologist
Barbara Rothbaum, director of Emory's Trauma and Anxiety Recovery
Program, and Emory psychiatrist and Yerkes researcher Kerry Ressler, are
leading a new clinical study based at the Atlanta VAMC, which uses a Virtual
Iraq module. The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.