Antibiotic claim gives hope to Gulf veterans

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The Independent Online
Scientists from the US Army are investigating claims that the illnesses of Gulf war veterans are caused by bacteria in the blood and can be cured by antibiotics. Garth Nicolson, a molecular biologist specialising in cancer research, claims to have successfully treated 55 out of 73 veterans with a six-week course of treatment.

Last week, after pressure by American politicians, the US Army agreed to study the research, which could mark a breakthrough in treating thousands of American and British veterans.

Dr Nicolson, who was head of cancer research at the University of Texas, detected micro-organisms called mycoplasma which were leaving the veterans with breathing difficulties, muscle weakness, depression and other symptoms.

His findings would explain why many veterans appear to have passed on symptoms to members of their families.

Dr Nicolson, who did the work with his wife, Nancy, concluded that the bacteria were not caught in the desert but were passed to the troops via chemicals they were exposed to.

In a research paper he wrote: "We consider the most likely sources of potential chronic infectious agents to be the vaccines and Iraqi offensive chemical weapons."

He believes that the virulent mycoplasma had been genetically altered for use in biological weapons.

Last week Major-General Leslie Burger, commander of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said government and independent scientists would be brought together next month to determine how to study Dr Nicolson's research.

Larry Cammock, treasurer of the British Gulf Veterans Association, said: "It is about the most interesting conclusion that we have had ...Maybe this will open the doors for long-term treatment for the lads."

Dr Nicolson said he found a genetically altered version of mycoplasma in the blood of half the several hundred sick veterans he has tested. Although mycoplasma infections are common and usually benign, Dr Nicolson said he had detected a particularly virulent strain.

The Nicolsons said they had successfully treated many of the veterans by giving them a course of doxycycline antibiotics. Dr Nicolson, who left the University of Texas to set up and become director of the non-profit- making Institute for Molecular Medicine in Irvine, California, has clashed with the Pentagon over the controversial course of his research.

Last week Donna Boltz, a Pentagon spokeswoman, was quick to warn that the government had not agreed to fund medical research into mycoplasma and veterans.

But Dr Nicolson's cause has been taken up by Congressman Norm Dicks, of Washington state, whose intervention led to last week's development.

Mr Dicks said: "We owe it to the people who are still ill ... to look at this more thoroughly."