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Empowering Our Veterans: Transformative Breakthrough in Gulf War Illness Research

Celebrating Veterans Day 2023

US Flag with a silhouette of soldier salutingAlmost 25% of the 700,000 troops deployed to the Gulf War in 1990 have a serious and debilitating condition known as Gulf War illness—a cluster of once-inexplicable symptoms including fatigue, joint pain, dizziness, and memory issues. Complaints about Gulf War illness were once seen as a fabrication for many years despite these various symptoms. However, research—including studies conducted at Kessler Foundation—has been influential in changing that perspective.

Glenn Wylie, DPhil, director of the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center, was inspired to delve further into researching veteran health issues by his father, Allan Wylie, Ret. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, a Vietnam veteran. Dr. Wylie has dedicated an important part of his research to investigating the link between brain activity and cognitive fatigue among war veterans.

Dr. Wylie explains: “To explore cognitive fatigue in veterans with Gulf War illness, my team and I have examined the effect of physical exercise on the brain using the MRI technology and brain mapping capabilities of the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at the Foundation, thanks to support from generous donors.” Dr. Wylie’s team asked Gulf War veterans with Gulf War illness and those without to engage in physical exercise then compared the differences between the brains of the two groups.

“Our research revealed that certain areas in the brains of Gulf War veterans with Gulf War illness become overactive after a bout of exercise: this overactivity likely results in greater fatigue and exhaustion,” he explained. “We've proven Gulf War illness is not imagined; it is real.”

Although more research is needed, these studies offer a strong foundation in providing better outcomes for veterans with disabilities. “The unrelenting brain fatigue experienced by veterans with Gulf War illness can be debilitating, preventing meaningful employment and full participation in the community. The goal of my research is to find ways to overcome fatigue and improve quality of life,” asserted Dr. Wylie.

Learn more about taking part in research studies at the Foundation and how you can advance this life-changing research.