(NaturalNews) Researchers have made progress toward understanding a set of physiological mechanisms that underlie "Gulf War syndrome," a heretofore mysterious illness involving a diverse set of symptoms that affected scores of troops who returned from Iraq during the first Gulf War.
According to a recently released report by a congressionally mandated panel directed by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher, treatment research has risen substantially since 2008, and "early results provide encouraging signs that the treatment goals identified in the 2010 Institute of Medicine report are achievable," the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC) said in a report presented to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki by the Committee's scientific director, Roberta "Bobbie" White, chair of environmental health at BUSPH.
The institute, which is part of the National Academies of Sciences, had predicted that "treatments, cures, and hopefully preventions" could eventually be found using the right research methodology.
'Studies show illness causally related to chemical exposures'
A Boston University press release detailing the research noted:
The RAC report updates scientific research published since the Committee's landmark report in 2008, which established that Gulf War illness was a real condition, affecting as many as 250,000 veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War. The RAC Committee is composed of scientific experts and veterans.
"The conclusions of the 2008 RAC report had a substantial impact on scientific and clinical thinking about Gulf War illness, as well as the public acceptance of this disorder," said White. The earlier report documented several studies that found evidence linking the syndrome/illness to exposure to pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide, an element found in anti-nerve gas pills that were given to troops, in addition to other toxic sources.
"Studies published since 2008 continue to support the conclusion that Gulf War illness is causally related to chemical exposures in the combat theater," White said of the latest report. "And many studies of the brain and central nervous system, using imaging, EEG and other objective measures of brain structure and function, add to the existing evidence that central nervous system dysfunction is a critical element in the disorder. Evidence also continues to point to immunological effects of Gulf War illness."
BU researchers said that troop exposure to nerve gas agents sarin and cyclosarin has been linked in several studies to changes in MRIs that are associated with cognitive impairments, which further supports the nervous-system effects of those agents which were cited in the earlier 2008 report.
"The Committee concludes that the evidence to date continues to point to alterations in central and autonomic nervous system, neuroendocrine, and immune system functions," the report says.
Vets exposed to nerve agents, oil well fires, have more brain cancer
Studies also continue to show that Gulf War illness is not associated with psychological stressors during the war, the panel noted. For example, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric conditions in Gulf War vets are far below the rate of these disorders in vets of other recent wars, and far below the rate of Gulf War illness.
Also, said the committee, there is new evidence hinting that certain exposures might be linked to brain cancer in Gulf War veterans. Studies have indicated that vets who were most exposed to the release of nerve gas during the destruction of the Khamisiyah arms depot in Iraq have much higher rates of death from brain cancer.
Veterans who were exposed to the highest level of contaminants from oil well fires also have increased rates of brain cancer deaths, the report says.
In its recommendations, the committee encouraged studies exposing animals to toxic agents involved in Gulf War illness, "because they can help to determine treatment targets in subgroups of veterans with specific exposures, for which there are known mechanistic pathways that cause illness and symptoms."
"No comprehensive information has been published on the mortality experience of U.S. Gulf War era veterans after the year 2000," according to the report.