Gulf War Illnesses:

Questions About the Presence of Squalene Antibodies in Veterans Can Be Resolved

NSIAD-99-5: Published: Mar 29, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO investigated the reports that the blood samples of some ill Gulf War-era veterans contained antibodies for squalene, a component of adjuvant formulations used in some experimental vaccines but not in any licensed vaccines, focusing on whether: (1) the Department of Defense (DOD) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) performed or sponsored research using squalene; (2) DOD considered using adjuvant formulations in vaccines administered to Gulf War-era veterans; and (3) any research has detected the presence of squalene in ill Gulf War-era veterans.

GAO noted that: (1) prior to and following the Gulf War, DOD and NIH used adjuvant formulations of squalene to perform research on the development of more effective vaccines; (2) DOD officials stated they considered, but decided against, using vaccines with experimental adjuvant formulations during the Gulf War; (3) according to independent researchers, as part of their treatment of sick Gulf War-era veterans, they developed and administered a test, referred to as an assay, that detected antibodies to squalene in the blood of sick Gulf War-era veterans; (4) the researchers stated this assay is similar to a standard assay used in other types of research; (5) as of March 1999, the research has been subjected to peer review, but had not been published; (6) this process is often lengthy, sometimes taking a year or more; (7) according to DOD officials, DOD could develop such an assay inexpensively and test it on a sample of sick Gulf War-era veterans; (8) however, DOD plans to wait until the research is published before deciding whether to conduct testing; and (9) given the researchers' assessment, DOD's comments about the feasibility of developing an assay and that veterans have been waiting for the past 7 years for answers on the nature and origin of their illnesses, DOD has the opportunity to expand on the research already performed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should review the independent research that researchers report has revealed the presence of squalene antibodies in the blood of ill Gulf War-era veterans and conduct its own research designed to replicate or dispute these results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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