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January 2, 2002


Afraid of Heights? Emory Researchers May Have The Solution

Persons experiencing fear of heights (acrophobia) are being recruited for participation in a new combination virtual reality/drug study beginning at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Acrophobia has been shown to be responsive to virtual reality exposure therapy (VRE) in which patients are treated with a "virtual" elevator through a head-mounted display. Now Barbara O. Rothbaum, Ph.D. and Kerry Ressler, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, and colleagues at Virtually Better, Inc., are ready to begin a new study that they believe may be even more effective, using medication in conjunction with the VRE therapy.

In the randomized study the medication, D-Cycloserine (DCS), will be given in pill form to one-third of the participants in a 50 mg dose, and one-third in a 500 mg dose, while one-third of the group will receive a placebo. DCS is an NMDA glutamate receptor agonist that has been reported to have no significant side effects in clinical studies, even when used in large doses. DCS has been FDA approved for approximately 20 years, initially for the treatment of tuberculosis. For the last ten years, however, it has been used to help improve memory in Alzheimer's patients. Animal studies of DCS have shown that fear decreases faster with the use of the medication.

"Because DCS has been shown to decrease fear in animals, we believe the addition of this medication to the VRE therapy could help produce reductions in fear and anxiety quicker than VRE without augmentation," said Dr. Rothbaum. "We already know that combination therapies have the highest degree of success for patients who are being treated for depression. We think it is very likely we will see the same kind of results for patients who are suffering from certain anxiety disorders, such as phobias."

Participants in this randomized study will receive medication, virtual reality sessions, and assessments for free. For more information call 404-634-3400.

Dr. Rothbaum receives research funding and is entitled to sales royalty from Virtually Better, Inc., which is developing products related to the research described in this release. Dr. Rothbaum serves as consultant to and owns equity in Virtually Better, Inc. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by Emory University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

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