Posted on Fri, Apr. 21, 2006
UT Southwestern gets $75 million for Gulf War illness study.
ANGELA K. BROWN
DALLAS - When a few doctors began researching the memory loss, dizziness and
loss of motor functions of some soldiers who had returned from the first
Gulf War, they relied on private funding because of widespread skepticism
about the illness.
But the government and medical community took notice after a 1997 study
published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the
veterans had brain damage, not a psychological condition or stress.
Attitudes slowly began changing, and a study a few years later showed that
one in seven Gulf War veterans is sick.
Now the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas will
receive $15 million a year for five years and is the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs' designated Gulf War illness research center. Officials
from the hospital and VA, which is funding the program, signed the formal
partnership agreement Friday.
"Any time you have a new idea everybody's skeptical," said Dr. Robert Haley,
who has led Gulf War illness studies - including the 1997 one - for more
than a decade at the Dallas research hospital. "The Defense Department is
fully bought in to what we're doing; the VA is fully bought in. Everybody's
working together now, as you see today, to try to come up with a solution."
Texas has more than 100,000 Gulf War veterans, second only to North
Carolina. Nearly 700,000 soldiers served in the Gulf War in the early 1990s.
UT Southwestern's main goal is to develop a test to diagnose the illness.
The hospital conducts studies using an MRI with a powerful magnet that
reveals more detailed images of brain functions, Haley said. Scans are taken
while patients are asked to do tasks, such as identify pictures they
Hospital officials plan to buy a second MRI in the next year for the Dallas
VA Hospital, where veterans ultimately can be diagnosed and treated in the
coming years and the program expanded to other VA hospitals nationwide,
"This has been beyond the reach of science," Haley said. "Everybody realizes
we're on the verge of a real breakthrough here."
Haley and UT Southwestern began researching the illness in 1994 at the
request of Texas billionaire businessman Ross Perot, whose help was sought
by about a dozen soldiers suffering from symptoms, including disabilities in
Perot said the topic was controversial because the government considered it
"a 100-hour non-war - a heck of an insult for these men who had fought for
our country." Perot ended up giving more than $2 million to the hospital for
research over the next few years, Haley said.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison helped secure government funding in 1998, and
the newly designated $75 million over the next five years was a provision
sponsored by Hutchison in a spending bill for military construction and VA
She said Friday that the research would help not only soldiers but farmers
and others affected by chemicals such as pesticides.
"I also wanted to look to the future because we are going to have chemical
warfare someday, I'm sure, and I want to be prepared for that," said
Hutchison, R-Texas.Officials from the hospital and VA, which is funding the
program, signed the formal partnership agreement Friday."