Volunteers needed for a clinical, genetics and brain-imaging study

Do you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) or hair-pulling disorder (HPD)? Or do you know someone who does?

Then you you qualify to take part in an important new clinical, genetics and brain-imaging study conducted by the MRC Unit on Anxiety & Stress Disorders at Stellenbosch University in conjunction with Cambridge University in the UK.

The study covers clinical aspects of these disorders - symptoms, illness severity, impact on the quality of your life, treatment history and childhood trauma history, while also looking at genetics and the structure of certain brain regions implicated in these conditions. 

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

In DSM-IV (which is one of the major diagnostic tools used in practice), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was categorised as one of the anxiety disorders. In DSM-5 however, OCD now falls under a grouping of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.

OCD is a psychiatric disorder characterised by obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are persistent, "self-generated" (i.e. not delusional or psychotic) thoughts or mental images that are time-consuming, cause significant distress or functional impairment.

Compulsions, on the other hand, are repetitive mental (e.g. counting, repeating words) or behavioural (e.g. hand-washing, checking) acts that the person feels obliged to perform in an attempt to reduce the anxiety or distress or preventing some dreaded event.

However, compulsions are not inherently enjoyable, are often extremely time-consuming and do not result in the completion of a useful task.

Read: Read all the latest research about Obsessive-Compulsive disorders

What is hair-pulling disorder?

HPD is also now categorized as an obsessive-compulsive related disorder. It is characterized by recurrent pulling out of one's hair resulting in hair loss, with repeated attempts to decrease or stop hair pulling.

The hair pulling causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

ReadRead everything you need to know about hair-pulling disorder

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD), previously known as social phobia, is one of the anxiety disorders in DSM-5, and is very common.

It is characterized by fears that a person will become embarrassed or humiliated in situations where he/she is exposed to perceived public scrutiny in social or performance situations.

Read: Read more about Social Anxiety Disorders and treatments available

How prevalent are these disorders in SA?

OCD, together with other mental disorders like HPD and SAD, account for the 2nd largest portion on our national burden of disease after HIV/AIDS.

The causality or “working” of these conditions is not yet fully established. It can therefore be argued that it is necessary to do research on OCD and related disorders like hair-pulling disorder (trichotillomania, or HPD), as well as SAD, so that the symptomatology and the neurobiological underpinnings can be better understood and that improved treatments can be found.

Who will be conducting the research?

This research project draws on the expertise of 2 teams, one from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and one from the MRC Unit on Anxiety & Stress Disorders at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The work is cross-disciplinary in nature (psychologists, psychiatrists, geneticists and brain imaging experts are involved) and puts them on par with, and even ahead of other OCD and HPD researchers worldwide.

What will the study entail

Specifically, the study covers clinical aspects of the disorders (e.g. the symptoms, illness severity, impact on their quality of life, treatment history, and childhood trauma history).

Other foci are the structure of certain brain regions implicated in these conditions, and participants thinking patterns and emotional responses, as determined by structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), respectively.

The study also aims to find out more about the role of specific polymorphisms in certain candidate genes (the hereditary material) that contribute to the development of OCD, HPD and SAD via analysis of candidate genes of patients from South Africa.

Who can volunteer?

Researchers are looking for ...

- Volunteers who are right-handed and aged between 18 and 65 years)
- Persons with OCD or HPD or SAD 
- First-degree relatives of persons diagnosed with OCD 
- Healthy controls

How will it work?

Participation involves attendance of 2 sessions, with the first session comprising of a screening interview, filling out of self-report questionnaires and taking a blood sample for genetic analysis.

If suitable for brain imaging, participants are scanned during a subsequent session.

Participants also complete a number of neuropsychological tasks in the form of computerised games.

Participation is cost-free and participant information will be kept confidential.

Who to contact to take part

If you want more information or want to participate, please contact: Prof Christine Lochner 021 – 938 9179, e-mail: cl2@sun.ac.za or Ms Elsie Breet 021 – 938 9654, e-mail: elsie@sun.ac.za for more information.

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