The Biology of Trauma Initiative

BTI logo

In July 2022, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard launched the Biology of Trauma Initiative (BTI). Led by Karestan Koenen, an international leader in the field of trauma research, institute member at the Broad, and a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this new pilot aims to increase understanding of the biological impact of trauma, with the ultimate goal of improving the health and well-being of trauma survivors.

BTI is currently engaged in a four-year exploratory and foundation-building period primarily aimed at convening a wide community of multidisciplinary scientific leaders, initiating large-scale genetic analysis to lead new lines of biological inquiry, and building a plan for a long-term, transformative scientific effort. We are working closely with our partners at the Broad Institute, including Steve Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research.

BTI Roadmap

Our guiding principle is that understanding more about the biological mechanisms of trauma “getting under the skin” will enable us to create better and more targeted interventions for individuals seeking treatment for psychological and physiological illnesses triggered by traumatic experiences. Through our work, we seek to find: (1) biological markers of trauma in cells and organ systems that reveal how trauma is encoded in the body, pointing to potential targets for future therapeutic development; (2) diagnostic biomarkers that provide evidence of trauma in the body and which change after treatment/interventions; (3) biomarkers that allow stratification of patients into different treatment groups based on the biological changes that have occurred, independent of the type or duration of the traumatic exposure; (4) predictive biomarkers that indicate the likelihood of future risk to health, allowing early intervention to prevent onset of further health conditions.

We also hope that our work can be harnessed by our partners at the ACE Resource Network and elsewhere in the larger “trauma ecosystem” so that together we can raise awareness of the biological impacts of trauma, build capacity in the field, and effect positive change for patients and communities.