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Faculty member to speak Feb. 2 on Capitol Hill (2-1-00)

Claudia Miller, M.D., associate professor in environmental and occupational medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is scheduled to testify Wednesday before a U.S. House subcommittee investigating Gulf War illnesses.

The Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations will hold an oversight hearing to learn more about research programs pertaining to the cluster of illnesses affecting Gulf War veterans. Dr. Miller was invited to testify by the subcommittee chairman, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut.

The hearing will examine findings of a General Accounting Office (GAO) study of government research programs on Gulf War illnesses. Objectives included determining the amount of money spent on research, productivity of spending to date, extent to which goals are being met, and extent to which research has resulted in peer-reviewed publications and the identification of the causes or successful treatments for Gulf War illnesses.

Dr. Miller, reporting on her own research related to Gulf War illnesses, will discuss an emerging paradigm for disease—"Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance." This model could link the experiences of many diverse groups, such as sheep dippers exposed to pesticides in the United Kingdom, U.S. aerospace workers exposed to solvents, Gulf War veterans, and even environmental scientists exposed to indoor air contaminants at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to her prepared testimony.

"What ties all these groups together is the common experience of an initiating toxic exposure followed by newly acquired intolerances and multi-system symptoms," she wrote. "These observations provide compelling scientific evidence for a shared underlying disease mechanism—one involving a fundamental breakdown in natural tolerance. … This two-step process is the key to understanding Gulf War illnesses."

Diagnosing and treating the chemically intolerant could be done in an environmental medical unit (EMU), an environmentally controlled inpatient hospital unit designed to help patients avoid common, low-level exposures, she said. "Previous experience shows that within days of entering the EMU, patients will arrive at a ‘clean baseline’ and their exposure-related symptoms will disappear. During the next two weeks, each patient is exposed to potential triggers—such as caffeine, gasoline, perfume, various foods, medications and tobacco smoke—one at a time to determine what is setting him off," Dr. Miller wrote.

She will urge those assembled at the hearing to consider a "Manhattan Project-style approach" to Gulf War illness studies, consisting of EMU studies and other patient-oriented diagnostic and treatment studies. "New paradigms require new approaches and new tools," she wrote.

Dr. Miller, faculty appointed in the Department of Family Practice at the Health Science Center, is director of the university’s South Texas Environmental Education and Research (STEER) program.

Note: Dr. Miller will speak on the third panel of Wednesday’s hearing, which convenes at 10 a.m. in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Contact: Will Sansom