© Houston Chronicle
By TODD ACKERMAN
Some Gulf War veterans suffer from a form of brain damage found in toxic poisoning victims, a group of Dallas doctors said in a study released Friday.
In their second finding suggesting that Gulf War syndrome is real, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers found that ill veterans from a U.S. Navy reserve unit performed dramatically worse than their healthy veterans from the same battalion in a battery of brain tests.
"The amazing aspect of this study was just how badly the ill veterans did" said Dr. Jim Hom, a UT Southwestern clinical assistant professor of neurology. "There's something wrong with these ill veterans that is brain-related and, clearly, it is consistent with neurotoxic poisoning, not psychological reactions."
Tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans say they were poisoned during the 1991 war to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait, but many government officials and others have suggested that the problem is psychological.
A presidential panel said earlier this year that evidence so far did not support a link between sick veterans and poisoning and that stress resulting from the war can explain most of the problems.
No panel member could be reached for a reaction to the latest UT Southwestern study.
In January, a day after the panel announced its conclusion, UT Southwestern researchers said the veterans' mysterious illnesses could be traced to wartime exposure to combinations of low-level nerve agents and common chemicals. The latter includes anti-nerve gas pills, insect repellant and flea collars provided to troops.
The new study compared brain-related and psychological functions of 46 veterans, of whom 20 were healthy and 26 suffered from symptoms such as memory and sleep problems, fatigue, confusion, imbalance and sore joints and muscles.
The ill veterans performed worse on 59 of 71 brain-related tests involving memory, intelligence, problem-solving, attention span and speech. They also showed a "global" pattern of damage affecting the entire brain, said Hom.
The results were similar to those reported in a 1988 study of workers damaged by insecticides containing phosphorus, such as malathion, said Hom. Such chemicals were found to inhibit an enzyme important to nervous system function.
Hom said his team plans continued study.