JENNY MACINTYRE, NEW ZEALAND STAR TIMES, JULY 23, 2006
Vietnam war veterans are expected to be told on Friday that their exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides might have damaged their DNA.
The vets have been waiting 35 years to learn if they have suffered long-term genetic damage as the result of their service in Vietnam.
A report due this week has researched the DNA of 25 Vietnam veterans. It is expected to conclude they have suffered long-term genetic damage as a result of their exposure to environmental toxins in the war.
Dr Al Rowland, leader of the research team based at the Institute of Molecular BioSciences at Massey University in Palmerston North, will not discuss the findings of the research until the veterans have received the report.
The research studied what is known as “sister chromatid exchange” in cells. This test analyses the way chromosomes reproduce themselves. It looks for clastogens, which are environmental agents that cause genetic damage and can cause cancer.
The chromosomal reproduction of the 25 veterans has been compared with a control group of 25 former servicemen who did not serve there.
The website of the Institute of Molecular BioSciences explains that each chromosome has an identical sister chromatid. Chromosomes tolerate a certain amount of exchange in their material but when the number of exchanges exceed a healthy limit, the number of exchanges indicate genetic damage which can lead to ill health.
Rowland said the sample was statistically small. “But if the results show significantly higher levels of sister chromatid exchange in the DNA of this sample of veterans, the research will show that this group has been exposed to a harmful environmental agent which may induce genetic damage,” Rowland said.
Veterans and their families who have battled with serious health problems and birth defects have argued for 30 years that the defoliant Agent Orange has had a genetic impact upon them and their children.
These families hope the scientific evidence will strengthen the veterans’ case when the compensation commission considers the health impact of Agent Orange upon the servicemen.
Two years ago a select committee confirmed that Agent Orange was sprayed on New Zealand soldiers in Vietnam.