The U.S. Department of Defense awarded Wright State University School of Medicine a $1.4 million grant to study Gulf War Syndrome.
The second phase of the study will complement the research goals of the original $5.8M grant awarded in July of this year. It will focus on the effects of low-level exposures and stress to combinations of chemicals used during the Gulf War. Researchers will test hearing and monitor brain and muscle metabolism in animal models. Some Gulf War veterans exhibited abnormalities in the brain stem, which is associated with hearing.
Phase II adds research techniques, such as functional hearing tests, magnetic resonance imaging, and traditional measurements of energy metabolism. Three additional biochemistry faculty members, Drs. Ina Bicknell, Lawrence Prochaska, and Nicholas Reo, join the large research team already assembled. The team includes experts ranging from the cellular toxicologists to clinical scientists.
Daniel Organisciak, Ph.D., chair and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Mariana Morris, Ph.D., chair and professor of pharmacology and toxicology, will lead the three-year project for both phases of the study. The melding of disciplines increases the likelihood of success and broadens the areas under investigation. The team will investigate how stressful conditions combined with low-level chemical exposure may damage the body's systems in subtle ways that have eluded diagnosis. The researchers also want to determine whether sensitization to chemicals used in military and civilian sectors could result from genetic inheritance.
The project received the strong support of Representative David Hobson, and Mary Petticrew, a local philanthropist, who saw the need for this type of research and the potential of linking Wright State into national research programs through the Department of Defense.
The team under the direction of Organisciak will examine animal and human tissue samples for genetic and biochemical differences caused by repeated exposures to low levels of chemicals. "Previous studies have documented toxicity using higher doses of chemicals used in the Gulf War, but we don't know the effects of lower levels of exposure at the molecular and cellular levels," says Organisciak. Using the latest technology, they will also try to determine if there is a genetic basis to chemical sensitivity.
"Stress is known to accentuate many pathological conditions such as heart disease, immune dysfunction and cancer. Gulf War syndrome may be another example," explains Morris. Morris and her team will focus on how stressful conditions modify the way animals and people respond to chemical treatments. Using animal models, they will examine behavior, blood pressure, and structural and biochemical changes in the brain.
Several cutting-edge research tools will be applied to the studies. Gene array technology will allow the researchers to analyze genetic factors associated with low-level chemical toxicity. A state-of-the-art imaging facility will be used to determine the location of damage within cells.
"This project," says Howard M. Part, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, "reaffirms the high quality of our scientists' approach and allows us to address medical problems faced by many in our community."