NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Rutgers Cell and DNA Repository (RUCDR) has received $2.4 million from the US Army STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members) to conduct a study on the genetic make-up of soldiers at risk for suicide or psychological issues.

The deal means that Rutgers will have the opportunity to be a part of the largest study of mental health risks ever conducted by the United States military, according to a report in the Home News Tribune.

Army STARRS is currently surveying the mental health of 55,000 active duty soldiers by taking blood samples. These blood samples have been collected and sent to the RUCDR, the largest such repository in the world.  It provides DNA, RNA cell lines and genetics analytical services to hundreds of research laboratories across the globe, according to the report.

Army STARRS has given the money to Rutgers in hopes of providing data necessary to determine if there is a genetic predisposition to the increased risk of suicide or other mental health issues.

Jay A. Tischfield, Director of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey and the Genetics Chair at Rutgers University said, “I am especially pleased that we have the opportunity to participate in efforts to improve the health of our active military and veterans.  This award may help shed light on the biological basis of these mental health risks.”

Historically, the military suicide rates have been below the civilian population.  However, the suicide rates among soldiers have risen sharply, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Command.

Recent reporting by the Associated Press has shown that the military’s suicide rate has risen to nearly one service member per day.  The report stated that approximately 50% more soldiers die from suicides than those who die in combat.

The STARRS initiative, began in 2009 along with the National Institute of Mental Health, to determine why some soldiers are at risk for suicide and PTSD and why others are not affected to such chronic stress, according to my

Along with its invovlement with Army STARRS, RUCDR is involved with other genetic analysis projects, such as the $10.5 million National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcoholism and Related Disorders. The four-year project will study DNA extractions and perform genotyping to explore genetic links to the behavior and biological connection to alcoholism.

Tischfield said, “Determining whether there is a genetic predisposition to these mental health disorders is crucial to decreasing the risk of suicide and PTSD in our soldiers.”