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Researchers Look to Cure Gulf War Illness

By Lea Sutton
|  Friday, Mar 22, 2013  |  Updated 10:03 PM PDT
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Research sheds light on brain damage afflicting thousands of Gulf War veterans.

Research sheds light on brain damage afflicting thousands of Gulf War veterans.

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There may soon be a way to diagnose a so-called "medically unexplained illness" that affects thousands of veterans of the First Persian Gulf War.

What's known as "Gulf War Illness" affects a quarter of the veterans who served in the first Persian Gulf War, according to the Veteran’s Affairs office.

For both patients and doctors it's frustrating because there’s been no clear way to diagnose it, or treat it.

Kahili Schucht was a Navy medic with the Marines during the first Persian Gulf War. He remembers being exposed to a number of chemicals, and a year and a half later he started noticing unexplained symptoms. 

“I’ve had a lot of things going on.  My hands are hurting , my head hurts, my knees my back, my intestines, so it’s just a combination of a lot of stuff that’s all in one,” said Schucht.

Gulf War Illness has been linked to chemical exposure, but the exact cause is unknown.  Now, new research has found evidence the illness is caused by damage to the brain.     

The study was conducted at Georgetown University using an FMRI machine; a common device available in most hospitals.  Dr. Jennifer Javors is an environmental affairs physician at the San Diego VA Hospital.  She sees this new evidence, as a ray of hope. 

“This is potentially a big step forward to have a way to diagnose the problem for the veterans,” said Javors.

As for Schucht, he hopes it will lead to a more comfortable future for him and others. 

“The hope is maybe finding a cure, or at least finding an answer,” he said. “Because we all know there's something there, but there's not a definitive answer on what it is.”

Javors says while this research is positive, it's still very preliminary because the study only involved a small number of patients.  She also says there's a need for research directed at finding a treatment, but this is a step in the right direction.

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