Late Breaking News
Gulf War Veterans Continue to Demonstrate Blood Brain Flow Abnormalities
- Categorized in: Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), News, November 2011
WASHINGTON — Gulf War veterans continue to demonstrate blood brain flow abnormalities even 20 years after the war and, in some cases, have gotten worse, according to researchers at the University of Texas. This comes when funding for Gulf War illnesses is in danger of shrinking, as Congress looks to cut the federal budget.
|Photo of Gulf War troops from San Diego VA Healthcare System website|
Blood Brain Study
Veterans in the study initially were diagnosed with the condition 11 years ago by a research team led by Robert Haley, MD, chief of epidemiology in the Departments of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. In 1998, Haley’s team published a study wherein they used single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) to examine hippocampal blood flow in veterans with Gulf War Syndrome.
Gulf War Syndrome is a multi-symptom illness defined by fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, cognitive problems and other chronic conditions.
The results of the initial SPECT study showed abnormal blood flow in and around the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for forming long-term memory as well as regulating functions, such as learning and emotion. The neurological dimensions of Gulf War illness, such as memory loss, irritability and motion-control disorders, suggest impairment of the hippocampus, Haley’s team noted.
The newest study used a new imaging technique called arterial spin labeled (ASL) MRI. With this technique, each patient (35 with Gulf War illness and 13 controls) received intravenous infusions of saline in an initial session and physostigmine in a second session 48 hours later. Physostigmine is a short-acting cholinesterase inhibitor, which is used to test the functioning of the neurotransmitter system in the brain identified with regulation of memory and learning.
The ASL scanning technique allowed the researchers to achieve a diagnosis in a single two-hour session, rather than long, multiple sessions requiring the patients’ exposure to radiation.
The results replicated the 1998 findings, showing abnormal hippocampal blood flow that has persisted and in some cases progressed over the past 11 years. The finding suggests the condition is chronic and potentially progressive.
“Having an objective diagnostic test allows researchers to identify ill veterans for future clinical trials to test possible treatments,” Haley said. “It is also critical for ongoing genomic studies to see why some people are affected by clinical exposures and why others are not.”
Funding from Congress
While most federally-funded research into veterans’ illnesses comes from VA, each year Congress funds DoD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), which targets specific diseases and conditions for research. The funding does not come out of DoD’s requested budget, and the money is added every budget cycle by members of Congress in response to requests by consumer advocates or disease survivors.
The CDMRP has provided $39 million to Gulf War illness research over the last five years. The CDMRP estimates that the set of chronic symptoms identified with Gulf War illness may impact as many as 200,000 of the 700,000 veterans who deployed to the Gulf.
The CDMRP’s Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) focuses on innovative projects that have the potential to make a significant impact on science’s understanding of the illness and on the health and lives of affected veterans.
But in September, despite attempts by some senators to raise the level of funding for the GWIRP, a Senate committee voted to cut it from the FY 2012 Defense Appropriations Act.
In the House, however, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, succeeded in adding an amendment to the House version of the bill that raised the amount dedicated to Gulf War illnesses to $12.5 million — 25% over last year. Eventually the House voted and approved $10 million.
The two bills are awaiting reconciliation.
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