Our Studies

Background

Medical students demonstrate dramatic rises in depression and anxiety during the course of medical education, and research suggests this is due to the stress of medical school. A review of depression and anxiety among North American students demonstrates higher overall rates of depression and anxiety than in both the general population and age-matched peers. Possible causes of student distress include adjustment to the medical school environment, ethical conflicts, exposure to death and human suffering, perception of being taken advantage of or abused, and recent stressful life events. Additional stresses of medical school include heavy workloads, academic pressures, a competitive environment, limitations on personal time and financial burden.

Purpose and Objectives

The Medical Student Study (MSS) is a research project that’s allowing us to find out if there are specific factors which can influence the development of anxiety or depression during training to become a doctor. Although becoming a doctor can be a stressful experience, not all students develop depression or anxiety.

The purpose of this pilot study is to improve medical education and our understanding of depression in medical students. We hope to better understand both protective and risk factors to help better prevent or treat these conditions in the future.

There has been, to our knowledge, only one previous comprehensive prospective study designed specifically to analyze the risk and protective factors that influence development of depression and anxiety in medical students. That study, in which the PI of this project participated, was conducted at another southwestern U.S. medical school and published a paper showing that genetic variance in the serotonin transporter gene interacted with stressors and personality measures to moderate increases in depression and anxiety.

Population

The study population consists of current medical students at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine who consent to be a part of the study.

Results

Preliminary data analysis is in process.

Dr. Robert Gonzalez is currently conducting an actigraphy-based protocol designed to assess the relationship between sleep and biological rhythm disturbances, inflammation, and cognitive functioning in persons diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This study is trying to identify children and adolescents who are at risk for developing mental illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia disorders in the south Texas and border regions of El Paso County. The study collects information on the psychosocial aspects of a child’s life between the ages of six and 20 years old. They may participate up until the age of 30, if we include the follow ups of those that were recruited at age 20. Parents also participate in this study, and information on family medical and psychiatric history is collected. The main goal of this study is to recruit 2,240 participants among the cities of San Antonio and El Paso, Texas.

This is a longitudinal study; for the first two years, participants are followed every six months, and after the 24 month follow-up, participants are followed for the next eight years with a once a year visit to the center.

During the first visit, the study includes an interview with the parent and the child in which we ask if there has ever been any type of medical or psychiatric illnesses or disorders in the family. The child is also interviewed about their personality, academic, behavioral, social, and family functioning. The parent is also interviewed in these aspects, and will answer some questionnaires about the personality of their child. During the study, we also ask the child to provide a blood or saliva sample. The blood sample will provide results regarding the levels of cholesterol and blood sugar as well as a genetic sample for the study. The study compensates both parents and children for their participation.

This study is aimed at determining the genetic origins of certain diseases and disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder in the areas of El Paso and San Antonio, Texas. Through the participation of individuals who suffer from these disorders and those who do not, we can further determine the locations within the genetic map where these psychiatric problems are originating.

The study consists of an interview administered by one of our assessors; during the interview you will be asked about the medical and psychiatric history of you and your immediate family. You will also be asked to fill out some questionnaires in regards to your environment, stressful life events, and personality. During the study you will be asked to provide a blood sample. The blood sample will provide genetic results as well as the results as to the levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood chemistry levels. Our participants receive a copy of the lab analyses after participation. The procedures for this study take three to four hours to complete and monetary compensation is provided.

The overall goal of this study is to identify genetic variants (DNA variants) and biological markers (mRNA expression) in military combat veterans which 1) may be associated with the onset and expression of PTSD, 2) influence the clinical presentation of PTSD (i.e. determine comorbid disorders such as depression and other anxiety disorders), and 3) which moderate response to treatment. The study will collect data from active duty military both pre-exposure and post-exposure to combat and deployment related trauma. This data will be analyzed to identify genetic risk factors (family history, DNA variants, mRNA expression) which influence development of PTSD in military personnel exposed to combat trauma. At completion of this study, we will have detailed information elucidating the role of genetic predisposition in development of PTSD as well as information regarding the potential use of DNA testing to predict whether specific therapies for PTSD are more or less likely to be efficacious in treating active duty personnel and veterans.

If you would like more information about these studies please contact our research team:

Marisol I. Ramirez, B.S.
Lead Technician
Center of Emphasis in Neurosciences
Texas Tech University Health Science Center El Paso
800 N. Mesa Street, STE 200
El Paso, TX 79902
Office: 915-215-4637 
marisol.i.ramirez@ttuhsc.edu