New research has indicated that soldiers who have served in the UK armed forces are 50 per cent more likely to develop motor neurone disease that those who have not.
The survey in question has been published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal, and assesses a significance Tranche of over 57,000 armed forces veterans.
Motor neurone disease is an incurable neurodegenerative condition that attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
The condition ultimately leads to progressive paralysis, and is considered extremely debilitating.
Although it is a relatively rare condition, motor neurone disease nonetheless affects 5,000 people in the United Kingdom alone.
Several previous studies carried out in the United States, where motor neurone disease is referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, have linked the condition to military service in the Gulf region.
But this latest study, carried out by researchers at the University of Glasgow, examine a number of Scottish veterans who have served in the British armed forces.
All subjects of the report were born between 1945 and 1985, and that the study was sure to acquire a wide range of subjects with a diverse raft of experience.
Length of service was also subjected to alterations in order to ensure the most valid dataset possible.
The study particularly examined the rate of hospitalisation and death from motor neurone disease, and found that subjects involved had a 50 per cent higher risk of developing the disease compared with people who had never served in the armed forces.
However, no link was established to any particular deployment, and it was also found that length of service had no impact on the likelihood of developing the condition.
Although further research is required in order to understand the reasons behind the results, it has been suggested that a higher rate of smoking in the military could be partly responsible.
And although there is clearly an increased risk of developing motor neurone disease in the armed forces, researchers are still believe that veterans and serving personnel should not worry unduly about the issue.
Motor neurone disease remains an extremely rare condition, and ultimately the chances of contracting it are still pretty slim even for those serving in the armed forces.
But the results of the report do imply a need to examine the issue further with the hope of understanding the root causes of this statistical anomaly.
Commenting on the findings of the research, the lead researcher, Beverly Bergman, stated: “This is an important study which has confirmed an increased risk in military personnel. We also showed that there was a higher risk in everyone who had experienced an injury, but the risk was greater in people who had served in the armed forces.
“Because the cases occurred over such a long period of time, we are confident that there is no specific link to Gulf war service, although higher rates of military smoking may explain the increased risk. This is a very rare disease and veterans should not worry unduly.”
It has been announced that Professor Stephen Hawking will open a Cambridge summit on rare diseases.
The inaugural Cambridge Rare Disease Summit, at the Cambridge Judge Business School, will take place on Monday 14th September.
Hawking will be in attendance to speak to attendees, as the lead-up to ‘Jeans for Genes Day’, annual fundraising event, continues.
The infamous professor will be just one of the keynote speakers appearing on the day.
As well as Professor Hawking, keynote speakers will include:
– Dr Matt Might, parent advocate, founder of NGLY1.org
– Dr Hermann Hauser CBE, Amadeus Capital Partners
– Alistair Kent OBE, Director of Genetic Alliance UK and founder of Rare Disease UK
Professor Hawking was, of course, diagnosed with the rare motor neuron disease at the age of 21, and told that the problem was incurable.
However, this has not diminished his interest in scientific pursuits, and Hawking has gone to live an extremely productive life, publishing some of the most significant scientific research in quantum physics in particular.
The Cambridge Rare Disease Summit will discuss how the 3.5 million other Britons who live with a rare disease can experience the same quality of life that Professor Hawking has evidently enjoyed.
Although the situation that Hawking finds himself in may seem to be extremely rare, in fact the whole concept of rare diseases are in fact far more common than one might imagine.
6,000 rare diseases have already been identified in laboratories, and this means that every British resident has a one-in-17 chance of developing a rare disease at some point during their lifetimes.
However, despite this sobering figure, advances in genetics and genomic medicine ensure that researchers and medics are now extremely well placed to diagnose, treat and even cure rare genetic disorders.
The Cambridge Summit will be a particularly prestigious and valuable event, enabling 150 key stakeholders involved in rare diseases to collaborate.
There is also a huge diversity of attendees, with delegates ranging from those working on drug development, data sharing and parent support, to biotech entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical companies and start-ups.
It is hoped that the summit will both create awareness of rare diseases, and also play a part in forming and bonding a community of active and interested stakeholders in rare disease research and development.
The network is also seeking alternative ways to fund drug discovery programs for rare diseases, often overlooked by more traditional financing due to the lack of significant financial reward in particular.
Kay Parkinson, CEO of the newly-formed Cambridge Rare Disease Network (CRDN) commented on the forthcoming event favourably.
“As parent to two children who were given a late diagnosis of the ultra rare Alström Syndrome, I think it’s crucial to foster dialogue, find solutions and increase awareness of the huge social and therapeutic unmet needs around rare diseases,” Kay stated.
Cambridge was considered a natural location for this event, owing to its existing knowledge and expertise in research and industry related to biotechnology.