In September 2018, the United States Department of Defense awarded an $8.5 million grant to an NSU research team led by primary investigator, Nancy Klimas, to establish a National Clinical Trials and Interventions Consortium. This particular grant facilitates the continued research of potential Gulf War Illness or GWI through the Gulf War Illness Clinical Trials and Interventions Consortium (GWICTIC).
“The consortium consists of an NSU based operation center led by Klimas who directs the NSU’s Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine or INIM and is a recognized expert worldwide in complex conditions that include GWI, myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome. Klimas also manages a GWI speciality clinic at the Miami VA and the VA’s environmental medicine clinic and research program,” said Amanpreet Cheema, administrative director of GWICTIC.
There are a few collaborators of this consortium that include NSU’s INIM, Miami VA, Boston University, RTI International, Bronx VAMC, New Jersey War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) and the California U.S Department of Veterans Affairs WRIISC.
According to Jimmy Arocho, research associate for INIM and Gulf War veteran of the 101 airborne air-assault division, GWI is a unique condition that was introduced to U.S. service members after returning from the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, or the Desert Shield and Desert Storm campaigns.This condition affects veterans and civilians who were exposed to a number of hazardous materials during these campaigns.
“During the Vietnam-era we had Agent Orange and in the Gulf War-era we have a collection of challenges that can stem anywhere from pesticides, organophosphates, ferin on the battlefield and prophylactic medicines taken to protect [service members] from nerve gas exposure,” said Arocho.
Of the 700,000 service members deployed in the conflict, 1 in 3 — or 250,000 individuals — complained of multi-symptom illnesses once they returned home, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. These symptoms include chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. As of now, GWI is only a research term, not a medical term. Service members currently suffering from chronic multisymptom illness are being taken care of through undiagnosed chronic medical illness presumptives. Meaning that these conditions are presumed to be associated with the Gulf War, but it is unknown what caused them. Through this research, the GWICTIC and the grant from the DoD hope to help the VA understand the potential effects from the battlefield— especially exposure and environmental challenges.
There are about 30,000-40,000 of the veterans suffering from chronic multisymptom illnesses contributed to the battlefield that are in the VA system seeking medical care and treatment. The estimated 200,000 other service members are unaccounted for. “Many of these veterans could be unaware that there is research going on and may not be attributing their medical conditions to their services in the Gulf War. Yet, it may be very well that case,” said Arocho.
Through this collaboration, the consortium will serve as space in which the researchers will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the functional and mechanistic effects of any potential therapeutic interventions which can be later brought to clinical trials.
“One of the goals of this consortium is to be responsive to the new knowledge quickly and use this structure to facilitate rapid and effective response. Using this integrated approach we aim to quickly and effectively target the underlying mechanism of this multi symptom disease and find more effective treatment approaches that do not rely solely on symptom alleviation but also improve the outcome for those that are suffering from disabling illnesses that affect the quality of life,” said Cheema.
Future plans for the consortium involve clinical trials that are currently waiting for approval. The plan for these trials in to repurpose FDA approved drugs and nutraceuticals recognized as safe, to target therapeutic biological mechanisms that have been identified based on the research experience of the collaboration.
“With the ongoing clinical research studies and trials my expectation is one; as a service member, I care about my fellow service members and I feel that all 700,000 that are still walking this earth should know about [GWI] but more specifically, those 250,000 members that are suffering need above average explanation about what happened to them. Secondarily, I’d want the science derived from the research to help those quarter of a million people suffering and I’m included in that. I hope that there is a hope to help. Will this condition be completely eradicated, I really doubt it but can we bring quality of life? Yes. I have very high hopes [from my perspective] that we can improve quality of life,” said Arocho.