VA enrolls 750,000 participants in genetics research initiative

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Million Veteran Program is three-quarters of the way to reaching its enrollment goal, with the aim of bringing precision medicine to VA healthcare.

With 750,000 participants currently enrolled, the agency says it has reached a major milestone and has one of the world’s largest genomic databases as part of a national, voluntary research initiative studying how genes impact the health—and illness—of veterans.

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The research program is designed to link genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military-exposure information. Since 2011, the VA has enrolled veterans from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, creating what it contends is the largest representation of minorities of any U.S. genomic cohort.

Participants donate blood from which DNA is extracted, as well as give permission to researchers to access their electronic health records. Both the samples and data are coded to protect the identification and privacy of volunteers. Participants also agree to take a baseline and periodic follow-up surveys to track their military experiences, health and lifestyles.

“Research using MVP data is already underway with several studies, including efforts focused on understanding the genetics of post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, heart disease, suicide prevention and other topics,” according to the agency. “Several significant research findings have already been published in high-impact scientific journals. The knowledge gained from research can eventually lead to better treatments and preventive measures for many common illnesses, especially those common among combat veterans, such as PTSD.”

The VA plans to grow its informatics infrastructure and increase its partner base for MVP, including veterans that are not currently enrolled in VA healthcare. In addition, the agency is looking to collaborate with the Department of Defense to offer MVP enrollment to DoD beneficiaries, including active-duty service members.

“While having 750,000 veteran partners is a momentous achievement, there is still much work to be done,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a written statement. “MVP is on track to continue the march to 1 million veteran partners and beyond in the next few years.”

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