Tapping into the nation’s largest database linking genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military exposure information, the Department of Veterans Affairs is funding four new studies in the areas of heart disease, kidney disease, and substance use.

As part of a data access beta test, the newly-funded studies are among the first to leverage the database—called VA’s Million Veteran Program (MVP)—which has enrolled more than 390,000 veterans to date. MVP is a national, voluntary research program that partners with veterans receiving their care in the VA healthcare system to study how genes affect health.

The goal is to ultimately enroll 1 million veterans in MVP’s genomic database which includes DNA specimens and links to tissue specimens, as well as access to the VA’s electronic health records system, an IT capability to identify patients for a variety of types of studies, and analytical tools. According to VA, the research “ties into” the $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative announced earlier this year by the Obama administration, which seeks to collect data from a million or more volunteers for a national research cohort.

In addition, the agency said the studies will help establish new methods for securely linking MVP data with other sources of health information, including non-VA sources such as the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

Also See: VA Leverages IBM’s Watson Supercomputer

Specifically, the studies will target understudied African American and Hispanic veteran populations, addressing questions related to common chronic illnesses:

Cardiovascular risk factors—The Atlanta VA Medical Center and Boston VA Health Care System will lead an effort probing the genes that influence how obesity and lipid levels affect heart risk. Using MVP data, researchers will also look at whether these genetic factors differ among African Americans and Hispanics.

Metabolic conditions—The VA Palo Alto Health Care System and Philadelphia VA Medical Center, as well as a team of researchers from five VA regions and two universities, will explore the role of genetics in obesity, diabetes, and abnormal lipid levels (namely, cholesterol and triglycerides), as drivers of heart disease.

Multi-substance use—The VA Connecticut Healthcare System and Philadelphia VA Medical Center will examine the genetic risk factors for chronic use of alcohol, tobacco, and opioids—and the dangerous use of all three together.

Pharmacogenomics of kidney disease—The VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System will focus on how genes affect the risk and progression of kidney disease. One goal is to examine how patients with diabetes—who often develop kidney problems—respond differently to the drug metformin, the standard first-line treatment for diabetes, based on their genetic profile. The project will also look at the genetics of hypertension, a major risk factor for kidney disease.

“There’s already been an impressive amount of data collected through MVP, and we’re continuing to engage more veterans in the program and building its research infrastructure through studies like these,” said Dr. Timothy O’ Leary, VA’s chief research and development officer.

Currently, MVP-based studies on bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia are also underway. Additional information about MVP and VA research in general is available here.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Health Data Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access