The Army’s suicide rate is at the highest level in history, with more American soldiers taking their own lives than being killed by the Taliban. The Pentagon reported in June that suicides among soldiers averaged one per day so far in 2012, surpassing the rate of combat fatalities. The Army lost 38 soldiers to suspected suicide in July 2012 alone, setting a record.
Those statistics make it clear that depression rates among deployed US soldiers is a growing problem, but is an anti-suicide nasal spray the answer? The US Army is betting $3 million dollars that it is, awarding that amount to an Indiana University School of Medicine scientist to develop a nasal spray that can deliver antidepressant chemicals to the brain. Dr. Michael Kubek and his research team will have three years to ascertain whether the nasal spray is a safe and effective method of preventing suicides.
Just how would such a medication work and could it benefit other depression sufferers too?
This new research will be based on the premise that naturally occurring neurochemical thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) may slow the rising suicide rate. The chemical, which boasts a euphoric, calming, antidepressant effect, has been shown to decrease suicidal ideas, depression and bipolar disorders. TRH and its benefits are nothing new, though. Doctors have been aware of it since the ’70s, but they struggled to find a way to effectively and efficiently deliver the chemical to the brain.
Spinal cord injections can accomplish this, but that’s not a practical ongoing delivery method, and pills and injections into the blood stream don’t get the chemical into the brain. Fortunately, Kubek’s team of research scientists has found a way to use new technology to get TRH into the nasal cavity where it can safely cross the blood-brain barrier. If the nasal spray proves effective, it could be given not just to soldiers in crisis, but to other non-military individuals suffering from depression.
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