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Gulf War illness breakthrough

MIAMI – One out of three soldiers who fought in Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991 are affected by severe fatigue, stomach problems and body aches, just to name a few symptoms. 

Shortly after coming home, retired U.S. Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Arocho's health took a turn for the worse. 

"Full body pain, muscle and joint pain," said Arocho, who spent seven months in the desert during his deployment.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were exposed to multiple chemical toxins, including organophosphate in their uniforms, said Dr. Nancy Klimas, director of the Gulf War Illness Program at the Miami Veterans Affairs Hospital and director of the Institute for Neuro Immune Medicine at Nova Southeastern University.

"Out of 800,000 troops, some 300,000 veterans are now ill 27 years later, so 1 in 3 came back ill and stayed that way," Klimas said. 

Klimas and her team at Nova Southeastern University and the Miami VA went to work to find a treatment for Gulf War illness and the debilitating symptoms. 

They put study participants on bikes and measured their bodies' responses and found their systems were off balance.

"In this particular study, we're using a biologic intervention," Klimas said.

She said the goal of the study is a healthy homeostasis, bringing the immune, endocrine and autonomic nervous systems back in balance. 

The study has moved to phase one in humans. 

Arocho hopes the research will finally lead to some relief for his fellow soldiers.

"I really want to see an effective treatment across all of what is causing the Gulf War illness," he said.

Klimas believes a treatment for Gulf War illness will be available in about five years, most likely in the form of an injection. 

In addition to Nova, four other sites received federal funding for clinical trials on Gulf War illness, including Boston University, the Bronx Department of Veterans Affairs, the Palo Alto Department of Veterans Affairs and the New Jersey Department of Veterans Affairs. 

For more information about the clinical trials, click here.