- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

Low levels of sarin nerve gas affect behavior and organ functions in laboratory animals at least a month after exposure, suggests new research that may provide clues to the mysterious illnesses of Persian Gulf war veterans.
In separate Army-sponsored studies, scientists observed behavioral problems, brain changes and immune system suppression in the animals many days after exposure to doses that caused no immediate effects, such as convulsions or pupil constriction.
Both studies involved rodents, and "that's a big leap to human beings," said Melinda Roberson, a behavioral neuroscientist involved in a study still under way.
Even so, the studies provide new information in an area where a lack of research has made it impossible to conclude whether Gulf veterans' illnesses are linked to low-level sarin gas exposure.
"They are pushing back the frontiers of biological effects of low levels of sarin. The evidence is building," said Dr. Francis O'Donnell, a medical consultant for the Defense Department who helps track Gulf war illness research.
Veterans of the 1991 war have suffered from various illnesses they believe are linked to their service in the Gulf. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems, loss of muscle control and loss of balance.
Most scientists have blamed stress. Some veterans attribute the health problems to toxic substances they have encountered in the Gulf, including sarin, a toxic chemical weapon that is lethal at high levels. Others suggest it may be a combination of the factors.
The Pentagon identified about 130,000 troops it believed were exposed to low levels of sarin in 1991 when U.S. forces destroyed a weapons depot at Khamisiyah in southern Iraq. Some veterans said they believed other sarin exposures occurred.
On its Web site, the Pentagon tells veterans that "current medical evidence indicates that long-term health problems are not likely."
Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, has published almost two dozen studies suggesting that some Gulf war veterans' illnesses are linked to brain damage resulting from exposure to toxins such as sarin.
The Pentagon criticized those studies, in part because veterans whom Dr. Haley studied were not downwind of Khamisiyah when the depot was destroyed. Dr. Haley said the new research gives "biological plausibility" to his suggestion of a link to sarin gas exposure.
The study on guinea pigs is under way at the Army Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Its preliminary findings were presented in November at the Society for Neuroscience's meeting in Washington.
In that study, animals injected with two different dosages of nerve gas were examined after two hours, then at three days, 10 days, a month and 100 days. No changes were present in some physical signs the scientists monitored, such as weight gain and temperature.

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