WSU to study Iraq toxins’ effect
Research to examine how exposure might damage offspring of soldiers
Washington State University scientists will use a $1.7 million grant to study what multi-generation genetic damage might be done by toxins U.S. troops could encounter in Iraq.
The research using laboratory rats, not humans, will be the first for the military to examine the epigenetic effects of pesticides, herbicides and other compounds, said lead scientist Michael Skinner, director of the university’s Center for Reproductive Biology.
Previous studies have looked at the health effects of other substances, notably the Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles in Vietnam, on the soldiers directly exposed, he said, not on their children or grandchildren.
“The science really had not caught up with the trans-generational stuff,” said Skinner, one of several WSU pioneers in the field of epigenetic, or multi-generational, inheritance.
Besides herbicides and pesticides – which and in what combinations has not been determined – the study also will look at the effects of explosives residues, he said.
The four-year study will allow researchers to see how any changes in genetic chemistry that develop are passed along through two subsequent generations of rats, he said, noting that only the first two years of research have been funded.
Among the problems that might develop are kidney disease, or changes in the male and female reproductive organs, he said.
If any genetic markers are identified in rats, Skinner said, follow-up research could look at whether they might show up among members of the military as well.
That would be of particular interest to Dave Holmes, interim chief operating officer of the Institute for Systems Medicine, which was awarded the U.S. Department of Defense grant passed through to Skinner.
Holmes’ son, Tim Hammond, did two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps.
“They sprayed all kinds of stuff on them,” Holmes said.
Although the grant money, the first awarded ISM, will fund work in Pullman, he said the organization’s supporters hope any subsequent clinical studies will be done in Spokane.
“There’s a lot of excitement about making it happen,” he said.