Gulf War Illness as a Brain Autoimmune Disorder: a new study beginning Spring 2016

From: the Department of Defense
U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command
Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs
2014 Gulf War Illness Research Program

Principal Investigator: Apostolos Georgopoulos
Co-Investigators: Brian Engdahl, Lisa James, Art Leuthold, Maggie Mahan
Project Duration: 36 months; Total Budget: $881,946 ID Number: NT11742165

An investigator-initiated award

We will study commonalities between Gulf War Illness (GWI) and four known autoimmune disorders to establish a rationale for diagnosis and treatment of Gulf War Illness. We have shown that brain miscommunication patterns, as detected by magnetencephalography (MEG) scans, can be used to accurately classify a variety of neurological/psychological disorders/diseases and healthy subjects. These diseases include multiple sclerosis, Sjogren's syndrome, posttraumatic stress disorder, and GWI. We also found that the brain communication patterns derived from MEG scan results for GWI and some autoimmune diseases are very similar, suggesting that brain abnormalities in GWI are of autoimmune etiology.

We will assess brain communication patterns measured by MEG, and obtain MRI-based measurements of brain structure. In addition, immune parameters will be acquired by testing blood to measure inflammatory and autoimmune markers. Further measures will be acquired to assess the cognitive, physical, neurological, and mental health status in our veteran participants. We will study a total of 200 veterans, including 100 with GWI and 100 with one of the following known autoimmune disorders: multiple sclerosis, Sjogren's syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Each participant will complete all study measurements, namely, MEG, MRI, blood draw,  neurological exam, cognitive testing, mental health assessment, and a general health assessment.

Why are we doing this?

As with most medical practice, when presented with a set of symptoms and possible diagnoses, ruling out other disorders is important before a final diagnosis and treatment plan can be developed. It is equally important to find commonalities between different disorders. Taken together, this practice is called differential diagnosis. By using differential diagnosis techniques, we can find the similarities and differences between GWI and known autoimmune disorders, which should provide evidence that GWI represents an autoimmune response. As a result, this research will further advance knowledge and broadly impact GWI diagnosis and treatment.

Strengths of our study:

Our study is not only practical but comprehensive, since we will use several low-risk, minimally invasive measures to obtain diverse and inclusive information about veterans with GWI and veterans with one of four known autoimmune disorders. Furthermore, our recent research has shown our ability to use data analysis techniques to accurately classify subjects with specific diagnoses based solely on objective testing using MEG results. We have pioneered this test, which assesses the functional interactions among neural populations derived from MEG recordings. Lastly, our study has the potential to improve future GWI evaluations, to further define the causes of GWI, and to improve the treatments of GWI.

For further information, please contact our Project Coordinator at 612-467-1460.



Updated August 16, 2016