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Texas A&M researchers using bioengineering of gut tissue to find answers to Gulf War Illness

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 11:10 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Researchers at Texas A&M are using bioengineering and regenerative medicine studies to help veterans dealing with Gulf War Illness.

Gulf War Illness is a chronic multi-symptom disorder that affects 25-35% of veterans of the first Gulf War. It can cause fatigue, sleep disorders, PTSD, and intestinal disorders.

“A lot of this is related symptomatically to something we call neuroinflammation, which is the result of service members taking a compound that is a prophylactic against a nerve gas attack,” Shreya Raghavan, an assistant professor in biomedical engineering, said. “What ended up happening is that, along with combat exposure to things like DEET, really triggered this physiological response that persists 25 years later.”

Raghavan says there’s still no explanation as to why it persist in Gulf War veterans, but a team of researchers she’s leading are re-engineering gut tissue to better understand what’s causing these problems.

”If we add the components that are being affected in Gulf War Illness, so the nerves in the gut for example and the immune cells in the gut, we can re-engineer these components into an engineered gut,” Raghavan said. “You’re now opening out sort of directions of study.”

Raghavan says you can treat the symptoms of gastrointestinal dysfunction, but there’s still no treatment for the underlying causes. That’s part of what the work at her team hopes to get at by figuring out what they are.

“This is not science-fiction anymore. It’s 2021,” Raghavan said. “We’re getting to the point where regenerative medicine is a normative treatment for a variety of conditions, and it goes beyond just organ replacement.”

Raghavan’s team hopes to develop this research to create personalized treatments for veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness. She says for many illnesses, not just this one in particular, applying a blanket treatment to all patients suffering from whatever it may be is not the best solution.

“That’s one big application - drug discovery for our veterans and improving their quality of life based on this drug discovery,” Raghavan said. “They have targeted therapeutics, and in the long term, the goal is if we can do this with human cells, sourcing them from other parts of the gut, you can biopsy the parts that are not affected and then re-engineer functional portions of gut and then transplant them to augment the function of the affected part.”

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