Scientist may have found way to diagnose Gulf illness
September 21, 1998

By Rod Hafemeister
Belleville News-Democrat

ARLINGTON, Va. — A California researcher has found what he believes is a biological marker common to the wide variety of illnesses affecting some Gulf War veterans.

The marker not only may provide a consistent way to diagnose Gulf War illnesses, but also could be used to measure the effectiveness of  medical treatments, Howard Urnovitz said.

“In people who are healthy, we don’t find this. If you have this, you  have an illness,” Urnovitz said. “It’s a pathway that’s never been seen  before. It’s a pathway that’s involved in most chronic diseases. And it’s been missed.”

Urnovitz, the founder and chief science officer of Calypte Biomedical in Berkeley, Calif., discussed his research at the annual Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Conference held this weekend in Arlington, Va.

Urnovitz said he can’t reveal too many details of the findings because they are pending peer review before publication in a scientific journal. But he said they contradict claims by some researchers and government officials that Gulf War Syndrome does not exist or is just the result of stress.

The marker, a change in a specific chromosome, appears to be the body’s response to an overload of toxic exposures, ranging from chemical  agents, experimental drugs, vaccines, oil fire smoke and depleted  uranium ammunition, Urnovitz said.

“A lot of us, including myself, were taught that diseases are caused by a single agent. It’s not that simple,” he said. “In three years of Gulf War Syndrome research, we now know that there is no single cause. There were a lot of agents there, a lot of agents present.

“Because of our work, we were able to find out that there is a common linkage that leads to genetic rearrangements and, really, the cause of Gulf War Syndrome.”

The syndrome, which is estimated to affect more than 100,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, ranges from skin rashes, memory losses and nervous conditions to unusual tumors and crippling diseases.

Some researchers have said the broad variety of  symptoms argues against a syndrome. But Urnovitz thinks there is a common link: the rearrangement of DNA, changing the chemical code it contains.

“Our interpretation is that this is the body’s attempt to deal with an exposure to toxic substances, to detoxify itself,” he said. “Gulf War Syndrome seems to be a natural response to hazardous exposure.”

A similar process appears to happen with other chronic diseases, including many types of cancer, which means the marker may be useful with many of those diseases as well, Urnovitz said.

The marker also gives doctors a way to check how well a treatment regimen is working. The more effective the treatment is, the less of the marker there should be. Treatments are likely to involve combinations of drugs, similar to what is being used to treat AIDS and some cancers.

“I think the future of Gulf War Syndrome will be to stop the progression of the disease first,” he said, “And then start moving to cures and treatments that work and are nontoxic and allow us to carry on the lives that we fought for in the first place.

“Now that we know there is a Gulf War Syndrome, I think that it will lead to a cure for all these chronic diseases. Gulf War Syndrome teaches us how to go after chronic diseases to prevent them and to stop them.”

Originally Published, September 21, 1998, Belleville News Democrat, Belleville, Illinois
(c) 1998, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.


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