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Treating Gulf War Illness with FDA-approved antiviral drugs

A recent study led by scientists at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health has shown that adjusting GI tract viruses by repurposing existing FDA-approved antiviral drugs offers a route for effective treatment for Gulf War Illness and its myriad of symptoms. Their findings were published in the journal, Viruses.

Previously, UofSC researchers have determined that chemical exposure from the Gulf War altered the balance between the viruses and bacteria that naturally occur in the human GI tract, resulting in Gulf War Illness.

Symptoms of Gulf War Illness include gastrointestinal disturbances, chronic fatigue, widespread pain, chronic headaches, respiratory/sleep problems and neurological problems in memory and learning. This illness has plagued more than 200,000 Persian Gulf veterans over the past three decades.

“Our own viruses interact with bacteria in the gut to maintain a healthy body and mind,” says Saurabh Chatterjee, associate professor of environmental health sciences and director of the Environmental Health & Disease Laboratory, who led the study. “If we can tweak our own host viruses and their interactions with gut bacteria, then we can treat the disease symptoms of Gulf War Illness. With our most recent research, we have shown that antiviral drugs that are already in use can be a great starting point for curing the disease and helping thousands of veterans improve their quality of life.”

Previous research has already established the link between military deployment during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War and numerous chronic health symptoms and disorders. Even today, GWI affects 25-33 percent of the 700,000 United States veterans who served in the first Gulf War. Soldiers deployed in subsequent wars have also reported similar immune system or neurological disorders. The chronic persistence and/or worsening of these individuals’ symptoms has proven challenging for both patients and clinicians to fully understand and manage.

By utilizing existing antiviral drugs for treatment, clinicians can begin testing these FDA-approved medications in patient cohorts at an accelerated pace compared to the lengthy timeline associated with traditional pharmaceutical drug trials. This novel approach (i.e., restoring the balance between viruses and bacteria in the GI tract in order to improve symptoms throughout the body) also offers hope to the general population, who may suffer from GI disturbances, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or neurological problems, such as learning or memory deficits.

Other co-authors include Ratanesh K. Seth, Rabia Maqsood, Ayan Mondal, Dipro Bose, Diana Kimono, LaRinda A. Holland, Patricia Janulewicz Lloyd, Nancy Klimas, Ronnie D. Horner, Kimberly Sullivan, Efrem S. Lim. Dr. Lim’s laboratory was instrumental in unravelling the virome sequences that formed an integral part of the study.

Funding for this project was provided by DoD-IIRFA grant: W81XWH1810374 and VA merit award I01 CX001923-01 to Saurabh Chatterjee; W81XWH-16-1-0556 to Dr. Stephen Lasley; W81XWH-13-2-0072 to Dr. Kim Sullivan; P01AT003961, R00DK107923 to Efrem Lim.

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Materials provided by University of South Carolina. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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