UCSF to Study Gulf War Brain Illness

March 05, 2002
News Office: Kevin Boyd (415) 476-8429

Even as the United States military fights a war against terrorism, medical researchers are still puzzling over lingering illnesses that plague veterans of the Persian Gulf War. A new study begun recently at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center will search for neurological signs of Gulf War Illness by imaging the brains of veterans.

The researchers are currently seeking Persian Gulf veterans to enroll in the study, said Dr. Michael Weiner,chief of MR spectroscopy at SFVAMC and UCSF professor of radiology.

"We are interested in studying any Persian Gulf veterans - including those who have no health problems related to their Persian Gulf service, as well as those who have health problems that began during or shortly after their service in that conflict," Weiner said.

Although VA studies have found that Gulf War veterans are less healthy overall than their peers who were stationed elsewhere, researchers have not agreed on specific causes for these illnesses. And there is no well-defined disease or syndrome that characterizes these health problems; however, the Department of Defense recently announced that Gulf War veterans are twice as likely as other veterans to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

The goal of this new five-year study is to search for changes in brain structure or function that are associated with illness among Gulf War veterans, Weiner said.

The study, funded by a $5 million grant from the federal Department of Defense, will screen veterans using both MRI and a related technique called MR spectroscopy, which helps determine the health of neuron cells in the brain.

Participants also will undergo a battery of other sophisticated medical tests.

Veterans interested in participating in the study may call 1-800-773-4883.

Subjects will receive financial reimbursement for their time.

Funding for the study is being managed by the Northern California Institute for Research and Education (NCIRE).

The San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been a primary affiliate of University of California, San Francisco since 1974. The UCSF School of Medicine and the SFVAMC collaborate to provide education and training programs for medical students and residents at SFVAMC. SFVAMC maintains full responsibility for patient care and facility management of the medical center. Physicians at SFVAMC are employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and also hold UCSF faculty appointments.

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