ATLANTA — Crucial research underway in metro Atlanta could lead to relief for millions of people with a debilitating mental illness.
An estimated 2 percent of the population, or one in 50, has obsessive compulsive disorder.
UGA grad student Rachel Johnson realized something was wrong when she was 18.
"It was absolutely miserable, and I thought I was just losing my mind," said Johnson.
OCD involves obsessive thoughts, then compulsive behavior to reduce the anxiety caused by those thoughts.
It can manifest itself in different ways. For some people, it's excessive hand-washing, even to the point of their hands bleeding. Others repetitively flip light switches or check locks.
Johnson's obsessive thoughts involved feeling the need to pray a certain number of times and in a certain way or her family and friends would die.
"Sometimes I would just spend hours and hours just praying. But it had to be, like, a certain way or I'd have to start all the way over," said Johnson.
After a year of agony, Johnson searched her symptoms online, saw a therapist and was diagnosed with OCD.
She's now managing her OCD through a combination of medications and therapy.
Now, there could be new help for Johnson and others with OCD.
iResearch Atlanta in Decatur is part of a clinical trial testing a new medication by Biohaven Pharmaceuticals.
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Unlike current drugs on the market that are used broadly for depression, anxiety and OCD, the new medication being tested specifically targets OCD.
"It actually helps reduce the amount of glutamate that's in the brain that may be causing a lot of the anxiety and the rituals and compulsions and obsessions that one is experiencing," said iResearch Atlanta's Dr. David Purselle.
Purselle told Channel 2 Action News 20 to 30 percent of the OCD patients who use the current medications on the market get very little benefit from them.
The hope is the new medication will reduce obsessive thoughts, compulsions and anxiety.
That could be life-changing for people with OCD in terms of overall happiness and productivity.
"It makes it very difficult to hold down jobs, to form good relationships, to have a good, active social life," Purselle said.
The clinical trial will last two to three years.
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