15. Mar. 2023

Yugoslavia war survivors can help us to answer this question!

Stress is a natural response of the body to perceived threats or challenges. It triggers a series of physiological changes in our body, including the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While short-term stress can be beneficial for our body, chronic or long-term stress can have negative effects on our brain health. Professor Ivan Rektor is an internationally recognised neurologist known for his research on Holocaust survivors and their offspring. His research was inspired by a family story - his parents were partisans in Slovakia during World War II. The results of his long-term study showed that the extreme stress experienced by the victims of the Holocaust remains present in the brains of the survivors and could also affect the mental health of at least three generations of the same family.

In his newest research project, professor Ivan Rektor focuses on more recent conflicts and tries to answer a more complex question. Millions of people have been affected by current or previous war conflicts. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, almost 100 000 people died not only in combat but also in ethnic clearings, and about two million people were displaced. The Yugoslavia war ended after NATO intervention and the Dayton agreement of 1995, but the suffering is still marked in the survivors’ brains. Traumatic experiences such as shelling, bombardment, loss of home and a dear person leave profound traces in our brains and can be translated even into the next generations. This phenomenon is known as secondary traumatisation.

Neuroimaging studies in patients who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or individuals affected by traumatic stress show changes in brain structures and functions. The disbalance of hormone levels affects diverse body systems, including the central nervous system. Extreme stress can lead to Impaired memory and learning, increased anxiety and depression, structural changes in the brain or reduced neuroplasticity.

Interestingly, not all individuals are affected by stress in the same way. There is a certain percentage of resistant people where the negative physical and psychical consequences of stress are not developed. The newest study by professor Ivan Rektor aims to focus on the differences that make individuals vulnerable or resilient.  This research project applies a novel methodology evaluating the impact of stress complexly in various approaches helping to find specific biomarkers of vulnerability and resilience. Knowing the biomarkers of the stress response can provide valuable insights into an individual's health status and help healthcare professionals develop personalised treatment plans for managing stress-related disorders.

Professor Ivan Rektor is currently looking for civilian survivors of the Balkan war who have immigrated to the Czech Republic or Slovakia and the children of the war survivors. The research participant can not only contribute to the advancement of a very important research field, but they also receive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains on CD, free consultation with a psychologist including consultation results and flat rate travel compensation (2000 CZK) regardless of destination. The research is conducted at CEITEC Masaryk University – a state-of-the-art research centre based in Brno. The total examination time is about 3-4 hours and includes blood sampling, a psychological questionnaire and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.

If you are a Yugoslavia war survivor and would be willing to participate in this study, please fill out the form below, and we will contact you! If you have any Balkan war survivors or their offspring in your social network, please help us to spread the word and share this article. Thank you!

For more information, please contact monika.fnaskova@ceitec.muni.cz or call +420 771 234 264.

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