|BUSPH Researchers Awarded $1.7M Grant to Test Treatment for Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses|
BUSPH will work with VA researchers in Boston and the Bronx to test whether intranasal insulin helps to alleviate Gulf War illness, a multi-symptom condition marked by fatigue, headaches, joint pain, memory and other cognitive problems.
The research team -- headed by Kimberly Sullivan and Maxine Krengel of the BUSPH Department of Environmental Health, and by Julia Golier of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York -- has been awarded $1.7 million over four years by the Department of Defense to conduct the treatment trial. It will evaluate the efficacy of two different doses of intranasal insulin on memory and attention, overall physical health and mood, and other symptoms associated with chronic multi-symptom illness among Gulf War (GW) veterans.
"To date, there are no treatments that have been shown to significantly improve the health or cognitive difficulties of GW veterans," said Sullivan, a BUSPH research assistant professor. "Gulf War veterans have been waiting for 20 years for a treatment for their multisymptom illness. There is an urgent need to establish effective, safe and cost-effective treatments now."
Previous studies of other cognitive disorders, led by researcher Suzanne Craft of the Seattle VA, have found that intranasal insulin improves memory, attention and mood, reduces neuroinflammation, and modulates cortisol levels. Intranasal administration has the advantage of direct access to the brain through the nasal cavity and avoids problems associated with orally administered medications that require higher dosages to cross the blood-brain barrier, making it a potentially effective and safe treatment option.
The treatment trial comes more than three years after a committee of scientists and veterans issued a comprehensive report asserting that Gulf War illness was a "real condition" affecting at least one in four U.S. veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. The group, of which BUSPH Environmental Health Chair Roberta White is the scientific director, cited numerous studies showing that the condition was linked to exposure to toxic chemicals, including pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide (PB), a drug given to troops to protect against nerve gas exposure.
Studies have indicated that veterans who suffer from the condition experience a slowing of response speed that affects memory, attention and cognitive reaction times. Intranasal insulin has been identified as a treatment that alters those symptoms by improving synaptic function in the hippocampus and other cortical regions involved in memory and attention processing, and by reducing cortisol levels associated with alterations of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, a complex set of interactions between the brain and the adrenal glands.
Sullivan, who is associate scientific director for the congressionally directed Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses, said she is hopeful that the study, set to begin in September, will be a step towards a cure for ailing veterans.
As many as 175,000 to 210,000 Gulf War veterans are believed to have experienced the pattern of symptoms that include joint and muscle pain, sleep, memory and gastrointestinal problems.
"Gulf War veterans have been ailing for many years without effective treatments for their illness. We believe that we have identified a novel treatment for GWI that we hope will provide relief for these ailing veterans," Sullivan said.
submitted by: Lisa Chedekel