Terror in Europe
Terrorism victims suffering PTSD will now have access to a new therapy. Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Victims of the recent Paris attacks have been offered the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial, aimed at treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study will be conducted in partnership by the Greater Paris University Hospitals and a Canadian team, which has designed an innovative cure based on the use of beta blockers.

Prof Alain Brunet, from McGill University, is in charge of the trial and has studied the effect of a drug called propanol for the last 12 years. This beta blocker is usually recommended for patients with hypertension. In different publications, the psychiatrist showed that blocking the action of neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which plays a role in the regulation of negative emotions, could be effective in as much as 65% of patients with PTSD.

Brunet says that the drug, combined with speech therapy, can make the scariest memories appear less violent, and eventually dissipate.

Six weeks cure for memory fade-out

In total, 12 hospitals in the centre and in the suburbs of Paris will take part in the trial. Four hundreds patients, including terrorism victims and the medical staff who looked after them, will participate.

The proposed therapy follows a precise six-week protocol, during which the participants will be given the beta blocker once on a weekly basis. An hour after taking the drug, they will meet with a psychotherapist and write on a piece of paper a description of the traumatic memory. They will then read it aloud and discuss it with the therapist.

This process will be repeated every week, in the hope that when the patients read out the memory, they will notice the task becoming gradually easier.

PTSD is often associated with a memory issue: instead of seeing their traumatic memory fading out, the person sees it as vividly as when it happens. The idea of this therapy is to allow patients to distance themselves from the trauma, and start remembering it less and less clearly.

Five months after the attacks, Brunet says that everyone experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares, intrusive thoughts or insomnia, should discuss this as quickly as possible with their doctors as they could be able to benefit from the innovative therapy.

Everyone who was affected by the Paris attacks may be eligible to take part in the trial. A specific number +33 1 42 16 15 35 has been put in place to inform and recruit participants.