Monday, June 28, 2010

Minneapolis scientist unlocks keys to diagnosing brain diseases; may lead to advances for Gulf War Illness

Written by Anthony Hardie

Graphic:  Sample of a Magneto-encephalography scan

( - During today’s meeting of the Congressionally chartered U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses (RACGWVI), Dr. Apostolos Georgeopolous of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center gave a presentation about new scientific technology that may provide a key to unlocking more of they mysteries of the effects of Gulf War Illness on the human brain. 

Georgopolous’ presentation, entitled, “Magneto-encephalography (MEG) patterns in neurological diseases,” provided an overview and stunning visual examples of his brain research.

In one example, one test (SNI) was “an externally cross-validated, bootstrap-based classification,” which provided excellent results. The test found a biomarker for PTSD, a disease that is associated with Gulf War service and is separate and distinct from Gulf War Illness (also known as chronic multisymptom illness), with a 96 percent sensitivity rate (and a 95% specificity rate). This shows what Dr. Georgeopoulos believes to be the best promise for a PTSD neuromarker that would help with both diagnosis and possibly treatment of this disease.

Dr. Georgeopoulos presented his research findings that showed another pattern for traumatic brain injury (TBI), and that the tests could determine in nearly all cases which patients have PTSD, which have TBI, which have both, and which have neither.

And, the tests have treatment outcomes, helping to show how the brain is affected, which may lead to treatments for neurological diseases like GWI/CMI.

He has researched other neurological diseases, each showing a distinct pattern, including schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Parkinson’s, and alcohol withdrawal, among others.

Significantly for Gulf War veterans, Dr. Georgeopoulos expects to have results for Gulf War Illness (GWI) by the end of the year.   As with the other diseases he has studied, Dr. Georgeopoulos expect the GWI/CMI results to probably look very different from other brain disease patterns including TBI and PTSD.

Graphic: Magneto-encephalography brain scanning machine

Dr. Georgeopoulos suggests that his research may have found a new basic science principle, which is that “fine-level synchronicity may be a fundamental aspect of cortical function that is differentially disrupted by different diseases and produces a differential disease signature for each disease.” In other words, his use of advanced scientific testing techniques produces a graphical pattern of the brain, and each pattern may be unique for neurological disease.

Dr. Floyd Bloom, past chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), former editor-in-chief of the journal Science, chairman of the Department of Neuropharmacology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1977, praised and congratulated Georgeopolous and his team on their work.

“This is one of the greatest demonstrations of diseased brains versus normal that I have ever seen,” said Bloom.

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