How The Bio Behavioral Institute in Great Neck is making strikes on a misunderstood illness
“OCD” is one of the most commonly misused medical terms. Often used dismissively to describe someone who keeps their items arranged in perfect order or is considered a “clean freak,” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious mental illness that impacts more than two million Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The symptoms include intrusive thoughts that make everyday life a struggle.
There is still so much to learn about the often misunderstood disorder. At the Bio Behavioral Institute in Great Neck, Dr. Fugen Neziroglu and her dedicated team have been studying OCD for more than four decades. The acclaimed institute is now teaming up with Bio Haven Pharmaceuticals to study a new medicine to treat OCD. We sat down with Neziroglu to shed some light on OCD and the important research being done at The Bio Behavioral Institute.
Most people when they think of OCD think of someone washing their hands a lot or someone who keeps double checking doors, appliances, lights, their work, email, etc. However, OCD can take on many forms such as emotional contamination where you avoid someone or their belongings because you are angry with them and you think they are contaminated; health anxiety such as worrying about your heart, breathing and repeating things over and over again.
The Bio Behavioral Institute has been studying OCD for more than 40 years. Our work has been both in cognitive behavior therapy as well as in medications. My husband, Jose Anibal Yaryura Tobias, brought Anafranil/Clomipramine the first medication for OCD, to the United States and we did our first double blind placebo study in 1972.
We hypothesized that OCD may be a chemical disorder and measured a substance in our body called serotonin (a chemical that is sometimes called the happy chemical because it contributes to well-being) in OCD and non-OCD patients. We published our results in 1974, and then in 1977 put forth the serotonergic hypothesis for OCD. Since then, we have had almost all the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). In 1989, we also demonstrated, with National Institute of Mental Health’s help, that behavioral therapy can also modify serotonin.
SSRI is a category of anti-depressants that target serotonin levels in the body. Most give about a 30 percent reduction in symptoms and should be combined with cognitive behavior therapy. Patients may respond only to a certain level and need another medication to boost the efficacy of the SSRI. This is why we are now studying a medication that works in a different pathway in the brain.
Bio Haven is the pharmaceutical company that has designed the study and that provides us with the medication. I am really excited because this new medication works in the glutamine pathway and it increases a substance called glutamate. Some studies already show that glutamate may be involved in OCD and preliminary studies show that it helps reduce OCD symptoms. We have not had a new medication since 1997.
The study is 10 weeks long, and then if the participant wants they can continue on the medication, which we will provide for another two years. People who are on medication can also be receiving therapy so in reality all we are doing is just adding a new medication to what they already are doing to help them potentially feel better. Although during the 10 weeks they may not know whether they are getting the medication, they will definitely have the medication for two years thereafter.
Anyone who has a diagnosis of OCD, or thinks they have OCD, who is between the ages of 18 to 65 and who are currently on an SSRI can participate. They may be doing okay with their current medication but may want to improve more.
The Bio Behavioral Institute is located at 935 Northern Blvd., Suite 102, in Great Neck. Those interested in participating in the study or who would like more information should contact the office at 516-487-7116, or visit www.biobehavioralinstitute.com.