Army aims to cut suicide in a sniff

An Indiana University School of Medicine team is using a $3 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Army to develop a nanoparticle nasal spray to curb suicides. In July, the U.S. Army reported 26 suicides, more than double the 11 seen in June, and the highest level it has ever seen.

The spray would deliver thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), a naturally occurring hormone in the brain that has antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects. But as a therapeutic it is hard to get it across the blood-brain barrier unless it is injected directly in a spinal tap, which is inconvenient, costly and unpleasant. The delivery system developed at the university uses biodegradable nanoparticles in a nasal spray--the particles are taken up by cells in the nose and then degrade and release the TRH directly into the brain.

The threat of suicide is an emergency situation, but antidepressants can take weeks to work, and some even make the risk of suicide greater, as Michael J. Kubek of Indiana University explained. "That is why we hope to develop a quick-acting, easy-to-use, non-invasive system that delivers a compound that's been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts."

Levels of suicide in the U.S. Army have been climbing since 2004, and it is a tough issue to deal with, and not just for the army, as Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, vice chief of staff, says: "Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army. And, it's an enemy that's killing not just soldiers, but tens of thousands of Americans every year."

The bittersweet theme tune from the blackly comic movie and TV show "M*A*S*H" said "suicide is painless." It isn't for those left behind, and if the University of Indiana's research comes through, perhaps it could help cut suicide levels in the U.S. Army and beyond. The delivery system is still in development, but clinical trials could begin in a year, and it could have a role as a treatment in a crisis, or to bridge the gap while waiting for antidepressants to kick in.

"This is far from a soldiers-only solution," Kubek said to The Daily. "Potentially, if this works, we have an entirely new type of pharmacology."

- check out the article in The Daily
- see the press release from Indiana University
- read the press release from the U.S. Army