findings home/archives       contact us       other AHC publications   

November 2005 Issue

RSS feed

Study Probes Obesity, ALS in Military

Published November 2005

UC researchers are working to improve the performance of U.S. soldiers in training and combat, and to make their lives healthier when they return home.

The scientists, in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory Human Effectiveness Directorate (AFRL/HE), headquartered at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, have received a total of $3 million in grants from the Department of Defense (DoD) to fund two projects that will seek to find answers to health problems among military personnel. The UC-Air Force projects were among only 39 nationwide to receive funds from the Defense Appropriations Act of 2005. A total of 497 proposals were submitted.

The first project, funded by a $2 million grant and led by Stephen Benoit, PhD, assistant professor in the psychiatry department, focuses on a system in the brain called the arousal-stress axis.

Dr. Benoit is working with Department of Psychiatry colleagues Randy Seeley, PhD, and Debbie Clegg, PhD, all members of UC's Obesity Research Center at the Genome Research Institute (GRI), to investigate whether anti-fatigue medications lead to increased incidences of obesity and metabolic disorders among military personnel. They also want to learn whether these anti-fatigue medications can be replaced with specially designed nutritional supplements that optimize performance and aid in recovery from physical and mental strain.

"We know that the part of the brain that keeps animals awake and alert is also responsible for triggering them to eat," says Dr. Benoit. "It's only natural to assume that by impacting one of these functions through medications or diet, you may influence the other."

Dr. Benoit points out that even among military personnel, who have much higher levels of fitness than civilian populations, obesity and other metabolic problems are increasing.

The second project, led by David Millhorn, PhD, emeritus professor of genome science, is funded by $1 million from the DoD and is designed to determine whether certain wartime exposures are linked to neurological disorders, specifically amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease).

The research will build on a previous study by co-investigator Ronnie Horner, PhD, director of UC's Institute for the Study of Health, which found that Gulf War veterans had nearly twice the risk for developing ALS than those who were not deployed to the Gulf.

Researchers at the GRI, in collaboration with the AFRL/HE and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, will analyze human tissue samples from the same group of veterans involved in Dr. Horner's study. They hope to identify biomarkers in the blood that could be used to diagnose ALS earlier and possibly identify people at higher risk for this disease.

"This grant and our collaboration with the AFRL/HE give us access to a large number of ALS cases, which is a crucial requirement for a study aiming to improve the diagnosis and treatment of ALS," says co-investigator Detlef Schumann, PhD, UC assistant professor of genome science.

ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of unknown cause that destroys the brain and spinal cord nerve cells that control muscle movement. As brain and spinal cord nerve cells die, muscles weaken and shrink, and rapid severe paralysis occurs. The FDA has approved one treatment for ALS. As yet, there is no cure.

 back to list | back to top