New Study to Evaluate Investigational Treatment for Gulf War Illness

Gulf War illness affects 25% of soldiers who served during the Gulf War.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common condition experienced by soldiers returning from war throughout the decades. Veterans who served during 1990 and 1991 in Operation Desert Storm and other Gulf War combat, may also experience Gulf War illness, which is estimated to affect 25% of the 700,000 soldiers who served.

"Substantial cognitive, learning and motor deficits are among the most profound and debilitating effects of Gulf War illness," said researcher Nick Filipov, PhD.

Veterans may also experience pain, headache, fatigue, breathing problems, gastrointestinal issues, and skin problems. Prior research shows that the condition may be caused by pesticides, nerve-agents, and other chemicals, on top of stress, according to a press release.

"The most pressing issue is that veterans with Gulf War illness are growing older, so the cognitive symptoms will be amplified as age takes a toll on the brain,” Dr Filipov said.

Dr Filipov and researchers from the University of Georgia received a $750,000 grant from the US Department of Defense to test an investigational drug to treat Gulf War illness.

"A major research interest of mine is how the brain and the immune system function and malfunction in health and disease," Dr Filipov said. "There's increasing evidence that the immune system is dysfunctional in the veterans with Gulf War illness, and perhaps neuroinflammation plays an important part in the manifestations of the disease."

In a new study, the investigators will administer a sugar-based compound to mice with similar exposure to experiences of veterans with Gulf War illness. The molecule is deemed safe since it is naturally found in human milk, and has also been explored as a treatment for multiple sclerosis, according to the release.

The researchers said they expect to improve symptoms of cognitive decline associated with Gulf War illness by restoring the immune system and reducing brain inflammation.

Dr Filipov and his team will study the new compound in 2 established mice models of the condition: 1 model involves exposure to a pesticide and anti-nerve gas medication given to soldiers, and the second incorporates exposure to a nerve gas surrogate and stress, in addition to the exposures of the first group, according to the release.

The mice models in both groups will receive delayed treatment for the exposures, with some waiting several months.

"Just as Gulf War veterans are being treated for their illness years after they were exposed to chemicals during the war, the mice in our study will experience a delay before they are treated," Dr Filipov said.

The investigators plan to analyze the compound’s efficacy through improvements in brain function and restoring the immune system through behavioral, cellular, and molecular testing, according to the press release.

Final results are expected in approximately 2 years, the press release concluded.