Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Researchers on Gulf War illness seek veterans

Researchers at East Carolina University will spend another year studying the causes of Gulf War illness and medicines that might be able to treat it.

Forty veterans from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia who developed Gulf War illness have participated in the East Carolina study so far. But study leader, Dr. William Meggs, a medical toxicologist and professor of emergency medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, hopes to recruit another 20. 

Gulf War illness is the name given to the chronic fatigue, chronic pain and difficulty with mental tasks suffered by some who served in the 1991 Gulf War and its aftermath. It affects almost one-third, or about 250,000, of the veterans who served, according to the National Institute of Medicine.

The $1.1 million study, funded by the Department of Defense, is researching the effectiveness of generic drugs that control inflammation in the brain that may have been triggered by neurotoxin exposures. 

Immediately after the war, Gulf War illness was attributed to post traumatic stress disorder. Others claimed that it was a psychological illness. The Department of Veterans Affairs founded a research advisory committee, including Meggs, to direct research efforts in the disease.

Research has shown that exposure to neurotoxic chemicals is most strongly associated with development of Gulf War illness. Those serving in the Gulf War had exposures to sarin nerve gas from Scud missiles and demolition of ammunition dumps containing sarin. Neurotoxic insecticides related to sarin were used to spray tents to control sand fleas. Troops also received a drug to prevent sarin from binding irreversibly at nerve junctions but that has similar toxicities. Soldiers were also exposed to smoke from oil well fires in Kuwait, depleted uranium, multiple vaccinations and oil sprayed on the sand in camps to reduce sand dust.

Gulf War veterans interested in knowing more about the study may contact Allison Mainhart at 252-744-5568.