New research shows risk of ALS exposure in Gulf War veterans is time limited

June 6, 2008

A new study, led by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC), says that cases of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) among soldiers who served in the first Persian Gulf War were caused by certain events during their deployment to the war zone, meaning the exposure and illness is not as widespread as previously thought. The study is being published in the July issue of Neuroepidemiology.

Ronnie Horner, PhD, lead author of the study, along with colleagues at Duke University Medical Center found that among the 124 cases of ALS studied, 48 occurred within those soldiers deployed to the Persian Gulf region.

Horner says most of the deployed soldiers who developed ALS had disease onset in 1996 or earlier.

"The outbreak was time-limited," he continues. "We actually saw a declining risk after 1996; therefore, the risk is not continual. The pattern of disease onset suggests that whatever exposure occurred among these soldiers most likely happened sometime between August 1990 and July 1991, the period of the first Gulf War."

ALS is a fatal neurological disease caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. It is commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease after the baseball Hall of Famer who died of it in 1941.

Horner, director for the Institute for the Study of Health at UC, says it is an illness that usually affects people in their 60s and 70s.

"When it started occurring in veterans in their 30s and 40s—a low-risk population—researchers knew that something had occurred during that conflict to cause these affects."

The recent study builds on research published in 2003 that showed there was a two-fold increased risk of ALS among 1991 Gulf War veterans.

To gather this information, researchers screened medical files at Veteran Affairs and Department of Defense hospitals nationwide in search of patients with ALS or other motor neuron diseases. They also advertised a toll-free telephone number for Gulf War veterans to call if they had been diagnosed with ALS.

After identifying patients, the investigators verified their illness through medical record review or medical examination by neurologists who were experts in ALS.

The study indicated that these veterans had a higher-than-expected risk of ALS but did not answer whether the risk had diminished over time or what had caused the risk.

Now, researchers at Duke, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and UC are taking it a step further and are conducting studies to find possible exposures these veterans had while deployed to the Persian Gulf area that may be the cause of the outbreak.

"We want to find out if there are specific areas where the soldiers moved through," Horner says. In addition, he says researchers are looking at the contributions of specific incidents—for example, the demolition of the munitions dump at Khamisiyah, Iraq, that released a low level of nerve agent, and smoke from the oil well fires—to the heightened risk of the disease in soldiers.

"With this information, we may be able to discover what caused the ALS outbreak and hopefully prevent similar instances from occurring in the future," Horner says.

Source: University of Cincinnati

Explore further: New report finds illness continues to be major effect linked to Gulf War military service

Related Stories

New report finds illness continues to be major effect linked to Gulf War military service

February 11, 2016
Although more than $500 million in federally funded research on Persian Gulf War veterans between 1994 and 2014 has produced many findings, there has been little substantial progress in the overall understanding of the health ...

Toxic exposures caused illness in gulf war veterans, new report says

January 26, 2016
Twenty-five years after 700,000 U.S. troops fought and won the first Gulf War with remarkably low casualties, research "clearly and consistently" shows that exposure to pesticides and other toxins caused Gulf War Illness, ...

Herbal amphetamine increases risk of death and stroke in those with heart disease

December 12, 2011
Chewing the natural stimulant khat increases the risk of death and stroke in patients with heart disease compared to those who are not users, according to new research in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

'Dizziness', the super-tobacco hooking UAE teens

March 22, 2015
Despite campaigns on the risks of smoking, teenagers in the United Arab Emirates are turning to a little-known tobacco product five times more potent than cigarettes and said to cause seizures.

Qatar tackles weighty problem with national sport day

February 10, 2015
More than a million Qataris were given a day off work Tuesday to take part in a nationwide day of sport amid growing concern at obesity levels in the super-rich Gulf state.

Real-time sharing of Zika genomes—the race against a virus

October 5, 2016
As the global health emergency caused by the Zika outbreak continues, the virus underlying it remains a mystery, with devastating consequences still being identified. More than a year after Zika became widespread in the Americas, ...

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SDMike
not rated yet Jun 07, 2008
Despite all the negative news about the US military, they are still attempting to understand the cause of injury to soldiers that occurred 17 years ago. And, the results may determine the cause of a nasty disease.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.