TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - One of the great mysteries of the Gulf War of more than 20 years ago is the illnesses veterans of that conflict are dealing with.
Now Tucson scientists are playing an important role in a new program that's trying to find the answer to questions that are confounding veterans and their doctors.
Gulf War veterans are heroes in life, so it's no surprise they want to continue their service to their country in death.
Veterans are promising to donate tissue to a brain and spinal cord bank at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson in an effort to help their fellow veterans.
It's actually called the Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Biorepository.
It's a brain bank.
It started in Tucson in July.
It's the only one in the nation.
"We actually collect the tissue. We process the tissue and we delegate the tissue to freezers for future storage for researchers. Our other role is the distribution of tissue to requestors or researchers who need this tissue," says Dr. Katrina Trevor, Gulf War Illnesses Biorepository Technical Director.
You'll notice it's called the "Illnesses" biorepository.
Gulf war veterans can have several health issues in various combinations, all believed to have a common cause in the nervous system.
"Fatigue, musculo-skeletal pain, indigestion," says Victor Kalasinsky, Gulf War Illnesses Research Program Manager.
Kalasinsky came to Tucson from Washington D.C. To talk about the brain bank and the research.
He says scans, such as MRI's, on patients can tell researchers only so much.
"We haven't been able to give a definitive answer to the veterans about what's been bothering them all these years," Kalasinsky says.
Researchers say that's why the need for donated brain and spinal cord tissue.
It's the next step in the process.
"It's impossible to deal with just one issue where Gulf War veterans are concerned. And the brain bank is a way to get at some of the neurological problems," says Kalasinsky.
Gulf war veterans are starting to hear about the brain bank, and inquiring about donating the tissue when they pass on.
"We're not surprised, frankly, that veterans are willing to donate tissue after they've passed away as a way of helping their brethren" Kalasinsky says.
"The results of the research would be put into developing treatments for the veterans who are suffering now and clearly then we would use that to try to prevent similar problems from happening in future deployments," he tells us.
"We don't expect instant answers, but this is a piece of the puzzle that we think we need to have in order to get to the final answers."
Much of that research is done at VA's in Massachusetts.
The VA in Tucson also is the only brain bank for the study of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's Disease, that may affect veterans who have been deployed.
Started in 2006, the ALS brain bank has become the model for all such banks.
It is the model for the new Gulf War Veterans Illnesses Brain Bank too.
For more information the Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Repository click here.