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Wayne State Wins Funding for Gulf War Illness Genomic Research

By a GenomeWeb Staff Reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Wayne State University will use a grant from the US Department of Defense to investigate whether genomic instability could be involved in Gulf War Illness (GWI), a newly-identified collection of symptoms suffered by a number of veterans, WSU said today.

The DOD's $900,000 grant to WSU Associate Professor Henry Heng will be used to study genomic data from veterans in order to discover how genomic instability may be involved in GWI, which includes symptoms such as chronic fatigue, memory loss, and depression.

In a previous experiment, Heng observed that patients with GWI symptoms, which affect as many as one-third of Gulf War veterans, also have high levels of genomic instability, with increased chromosomal aberrations in their blood cells.

"To our surprise, we found that all of the GWI patients tested showed extremely high levels of chromosomal abnormality that were as high or higher than some cancer patients," Heng explained in a statement.

Heng has based his line of inquiry on the theory that complex disorders are not caused by individual genes, but by diverse abnormal factors that can affect the entire genome.

"We propose that under the extreme environment of war, some individuals' genomes will become increasingly unstable, and war-induced genetic instability will lead to diverse disease traits that can be characterized as GWI," Heng said.

The researcher expects that his evidence could be used to develop a blood-based test for identifying GWI.

"Establishing GWI as a complex disorder and identifying its general causes will not only allow accurate diagnosis of this condition … but also move us toward reducing the prevalence of this condition in the future," said Heng.

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