DAYTON, OHIO--The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses met this week in Washington, D.C. at the VA headquarters. In a two-day meeting, the panel heard from researchers at Duke, Johns Hopkins, Wright State, and others. This blue ribbon panel, which includes researchers, Gulf War veterans, and clinicians, was setup by the Veteran's Administration to provide advice to the government on research and policy issues.
At the committee's request, Mariana Morris, Ph.D., chair and professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, presented an overview of Wright State's work on Gulf War Illnesses and, particularly, her research on the effects of low doses of sarin.
"It is significant that Dr. Morris has been invited to this prestigious national meeting," says Howard M. Part, M.D., dean of the Boonshoft School of Medicine, "and it reaffirms the national interest in our chemical toxicology program."
Morris's efforts focused upon the genetic and cardiovascular effects of non-toxic doses of sarin in mice. Sarin is a chemical warfare agent that was developed as a pesticide in the 1930s. While its toxic effects in high doses have been long recognized, effects from low doses have not been well quantified. Morris's results indicate that sarin has effects on the brain and cardiovascular system at doses that cause no detectable clinical symptoms in an animal model. There were changes in brain genetic expression and changes in cardiac autonomic function. The cardiovascular changes were similar to that seen in patients with heart failure and diabetes and were delayed in onset.
"This data is significant for public health," says Morris, "and suggests that even a low dose of sarin has lasting effects on the autonomic nervous system as related to heart rate variability." This work will be published in September in the scientific journal, Experimental Neurology.
Wright State Boonshoft School of Medicine received a $7.2 million grant, one of the largest ever awarded for basic science research, by the Department of Defense. The multidisciplinary research team examined how chemical exposure may damage the body's systems in subtle ways that have eluded diagnosis. Morris and Daniel Organisciak, Ph.D., professor and chair of biochemistry and molecular biology, led the project. Cutting-edge research tools were applied to the studies, including gene array technology and state-of-the-art imaging methods.
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