Friday, March 10, 2006

Big News on Biomarkers?

Tune in here folks for news and views on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) that are secular, civilian, and, I'm afraid, stale. This week I learned from an organization called Share, Care and Prayer that $7.2 million spent by the Department of Defense for study of Gulf War Syndrome has netted evidence of specific biochemical differences MCS patients have from the general population. Researchers at Wright State University Medical School in Dayton, Ohio reported differences involving levels of certain enzymes which detoxify harmful substances in the body. Across the page from a poem about Jesus I read:

"We were able to clearly discriminate between normal and sensitive groups," said Gerald Alter, who did much of the enzyme research. Just by analyzing blood samples, colleague Steven Berberich said, he could tell a sensitive patient from someone else.

S.C. & P. had reprinted an article by Kevin Lamb in the Dayton Daily News from last October. I was excited, but also baffled. If the article was accurate it reported big news in my world, but I felt as if I was learning it from a line of first graders playing a game of telephone. Why was this seemingly marvelous breakthrough being reported only in a local Ohio paper? Why was it reaching me only now despite my every effort to keep my ear to the ground? Was it really such big news?

As I write I am in hot pursuit of the answers to these and other questions. The most pressing to me is the question of whether both researchers cited above are quoted correctly, because they are saying quite different things. Discriminating between groups of people isn't such a breathtaking accomplishment (although many have failed in the case of MCS). You can distinguish a group of Sumo wrestlers from a group of randomly chosen Japanese men by weighing them. However, knowing the weight of any given Japanese man won't allow you to determine if he is or is not a Sumo wrestler. It helps you determine the likelihood one way or the other, but it proves nothing. Moreover, the differences between the MCS patient group and the normal group might be far less dramatic than my example--as if, say, there were only a few pounds difference between the average wrestler and the average citizen.

It would make my day to know a blood sample could be used to prove that a particular person had MCS, even to 90% certainty, even if that person wasn't me, and even if the development of a clinically available diagnostic test was years away. Just the knowledge would be a comfort to me after I get told by some lawyer that if I want Social Security benefits and I can't come up with proof of my MCS I may have to "accept" a psychiatric diagnosis. However, if MCS people fall within a "normal range" on some measure 90% of the time my enthusiasm is dampened. Either way, of course, I'm endlessly grateful to researchers who take the condition seriously enough to study it.

When I called, the official spokespeople at Wright State University were friendly and generous with their time, but they were backing away from the more exciting claims and not tipping their cards beyond their already published press release. They said there was nothing scientific to read yet. The results hadn't been replicated, hadn't been published, or perhaps hadn't even been submitted for publication. A progress report had been submitted to the D.O.D. but might be secret from the public. They had only notified the local paper because the surrounding community had a lot of sick vets and was following the fate of the $7.2 million that had come into its midst. Both of the people I reached spoke earnestly of raising false hopes as the worst sin they could commit.

The air of mystery only whets my appetite for the hard facts. You'll see them here as soon as I get them, probably last.


Richard Maxwell Undewood said...

Yeah, I saw the _Share, Care_ article and found the Wright State press release on the net.
The press release was of such low quality that I did not pursue it any further.
I've basically concluded the newspaper stories about health advances are not worth reading.

Lynn said...

Hi Masked Avenger,

I couldn't get to the links you'd shown (for the article or the press release). Shucks. Do you have either saved?


The Masked Avenger said...

The Wright Univeristy press release comes up slowly and you must have Adobe Acrobat. The address is:

The Dayton Daily News article is a bigger problem. The address I have worked one day and not the next. I couldn't find the article by searching in the newpaper's archives. The reporter, Kevin Lamb, stopped responding to my inquiries. The only address I have is below. It looks like there's a typo on the year, but I have confirmed that it is the address I had. I'll let you know if I'm able to come up with anything more.

Lynn said...


Lynn said...

I got your email and yes, you have permission from me. Thank you. Great writing and I enjoy hearing how others process this whole, crazy journey.