The microbiology laboratory of Joel Baseman, Ph.D, is an important place these days, especially for U.S. veterans and families who want to know what causes Gulf War Illnesses. The mysterious symptoms - fatigue, muscle pain, memory deficits, headache, rash, nausea, joint pain and insomnia - have persisted throughout the 1990s in thousands of veterans and flare up intermittently in others.
The lab at the Health Science Center, where Dr. Baseman is professor and chairman of the Department of Microbiology, is the central reference laboratory for a nationwide U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study of Gulf War Illnesses.
Blood samples from prospective enrollees are shipped daily to San Antonio from nearly 30 centers, and patients are enrolled based on the lab's findings. The ultimate quest is to define a causative agent or agents for Gulf War Illnesses.
"We are performing highly specific tests for the presence of mycoplasmas in the blood of Gulf War-ill patients, who by definition were deployed in the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s," Dr. Baseman said. Mycoplasmas, the smallest of bacteria, are cellular invaders that live off host cells' nutrients in a parasitic relationship, he said.
The lab analyzed more than 600 samples in the first six months of the trial. The study consists of a one-year enrollment phase, one year of treatment and one year of data analysis.