WSU to Study Iraq Toxins' Effect

by Bert Caldwell

Research to examine how exposure might damage offspring of soldiers

Washington State University scientists will use a $1.7 million grant to study what multi-generation genetic damage might be done by toxins U.S. troops could encounter in Iraq.

The research using laboratory rats, not humans, will be the first for the military to examine the epigenetic effects of pesticides, herbicides and other compounds, said lead scientist Michael Skinner, director of the university's Center for Reproductive Biology.

Previous studies have looked at the health effects of other substances, notably the Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles in Vietnam, on the soldiers directly exposed, he said, not on their children or grandchildren.

"The science really had not caught up with the trans-generational stuff," said Skinner, one of several WSU pioneers in the field of epigenetic, or multi-generational, inheritance.

Besides herbicides and pesticides – which and in what combinations has not been determined – the study also will look at the effects of explosives residues, he said.

The four-year study will allow researchers to see how any changes in genetic chemistry that develop are passed along through two subsequent generations of rats, he said, noting that only the first two years of research have been funded.

Among the problems that might develop are kidney disease, or changes in the male and female reproductive organs, he said.

If any genetic markers are identified in rats, Skinner said, follow-up research could look at whether they might show up among members of the military as well.

That would be of particular interest to Dave Holmes, interim chief operating officer of the Institute for Systems Medicine, which was awarded the U.S. Department of Defense grant passed through to Skinner.

Holmes' son, Tim Hammond, did two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps.

"They sprayed all kinds of stuff on them," Holmes said.

Although the grant money, the first awarded ISM, will fund work in Pullman, he said the organization's supporters hope any subsequent clinical studies will be done in Spokane.

"There's a lot of excitement about making it happen," he said.
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Mental health evacuations spike in war zones

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 11, 2010 15:25:18 EST

More than 10 percent of medical evacuations from Iraq and Afghanistan over the past eight years have been for mental health reasons.

From October 2001 to September 2009, 5,480 troops were flown back to the U.S. or to Germany due to “mental disorders,” according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

Most of the evacuations were for adjustment reactions or affective psychoses.

But the flow has not been steady over the past eight-plus years. Mental health issues only accounted for 6 percent to 9 percent of the evacuations from 2001 to 2005 — then jumped by 50 percent in just one year, from 714 in 2006 to 1,063 in 2007.

“The sudden increase in evacuations for mental disorders coincided with the surge in U.S. deployed troops and a change in strategy in Iraq,” wrote Timothy Powers, of the center’s Data Analysis Group, in a report about the evacuations. “The increase may reflect cumulative stress among individuals deployed more than once and/or increased awareness and concern regarding psychological stress-related disorders among deployed service members.”

Overall, 52,283 troops have been evacuated from the war zones, with 10,103 — or about 19 percent — going home for battle injuries. The number of battle injuries increased at the start of the war in Iraq — from 970 in 2003 to 2,042 in 2004 — and again during the surge in Iraq — from 1,640 in 2006 to 2,178 in 2007, and then went back down to 983 in 2008. About 4 out of 5 evacuations were due to illnesses or non-combat injuries.

The most common reasons for evacuations were musculoskeletal injuries — mostly back and knee — at 16 percent; non-battle injuries at 15 percent; mental disorders at 10 percent; and “signs, symptoms and ill-defined conditions” at 10 percent.

More than one-quarter of those ill-defined conditions involved “respiratory symptoms.”

Of the two million people who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, 248 were evacuated due to pregnancy, according to the surveillance report. Of those evacuated overall, 45,975 were male and 6,308 were female.

The researchers also found that of those who were evacuated, many had had a medical encounter for the same issue within 90 days of deploying: 29 percent of those with musculoskeletal issues, 23 percent of those with respiratory issues, 22 percent of those with nervous system issues, and 18 percent of those with mental health issues.

“There may be opportunities to refine predeployment medical assessment procedures to reduce recurrences and exacerbations of preexisting conditions, and thereby decrease related medical evacuations among deployed service members,” Powers wrote.

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