Local institute doing research work on Gulf Work Illness

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- A Suncoast research institute is ramping up its effort to help veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.

For decades, soldiers of the Gulf War were told no single cause, except stress, could explain complaints including headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and joint pain.

Now more than 175,000 veterans live with symptoms of what’s known as Gulf War Illness, and the Roskamp Institute wants to change that.

It’s been more than twenty years since Gulf War veterans were exposed to a myriad of chemicals and environmental hazards, and many preventions put in place to protect ended up causing harm.

“They were given this anti-nerve agent called pyridostigmine bromide. At the same time, they were using a lot of pesticides to protect themselves against insect bites, and things like that,” says Dr. Laila Abdullah of the Roskamp Institute in Manatee County.

She says the prophylactic intended to protect them from sarin, soman, and VX gases, pesticides and other preventatives, were given in excess. “When they came back, they started experiencing all these symptoms, like pain, fatigue, cognitive impairment.”

There was no particular name for illness affecting veterans of Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

“Gulf War Illness is one of these diseases that is not easy to measure. You can’t do an x-ray and say you have Gulf War Illness,” says Dr. Andrew Keegan at Roskamp.

She says Roskamp works on identifying why symptoms linger for decades. “We use a combination of these chemicals that the Gulf War veterans were exposed to in order to develop a mouse model so that we can find treatments using those models,” says Dr. Abdullah.

Now Roskamp researchers are one step closer to being able to help people suffering the illness by working with others combining the clinical end with basic science information that can help. “We've already collaborated for collecting samples from the VA in Boston, and the Bronx VA, and we're hoping to start work studying and capturing samples from the Southwest Florida area,” says Dr. Keegan.

The study involves irregularities in lipids and fat. “These will be bio markers that will hopefully be able to be used to diagnose and maybe also find certain aspects of treatment for Gulf War Illness.”

The goal of the Roskamp Institute is to become a resource center for veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.