VA launches nationwide 'game-changer' research

By Healthcare IT News
10:10 AM

The Department of Veterans Affairs went national May 5 with a genomics research program that officials call a “game-changer." The initiative, which relies heavily on databases, is underpinned by the use of healthcare information technology.

“It is my honor to join with so many fellow veterans in keeping VA at the leading edge of genomics research,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This innovative research program will support VA’s mission to provide veterans and their families with the care they have earned.”

“The Veterans Affairs Research and Development Program has launched the Million Veteran Program, or MVP – an important partnership between VA and veterans to learn more about how genes affect health, and thus, transform healthcare for veterans and for all Americans,” said Robert A. Petzel, MD, VA’s under secretary for health.

As described by the VA, the program is a trailblazing VA effort to consolidate genetic, military exposure, health, and lifestyle information together in one single database. The database will be used only by authorized researchers with VA, other federal health agencies and academic institutions within the United States – in a secure manner – to conduct health and wellness studies to determine which genetic variations are associated with particular health issues. By identifying gene-health connections, the program could advance disease screening, diagnosis and prognosis and point the way toward more effective, personalized therapies.

[See also: Study: EMRs speed genetic health studies.]

Launched in January at a single VA medical center, MVP is expanding to achieve the goal of national participation by veterans receiving VA care over the next five to seven years. Among those participating are VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould, and Chief of Staff John R. Gingrich.

Patient safety and information security are the top priorities in MVP and all VA research initiatives, officials said. To protect veterans’ confidentiality, blood samples containing genetic material and health information collected for MVP will be stored in a secure manner and labeled with a barcode instead of personal information. The researchers who are approved to access samples and data will not receive the name, address, social security number or date of birth of participating veterans.

The data will not move to the researchers, but rather researchers will come to the data – through the VA GenISIS computing environment – to increase security.

The program has been developed in close coordination with the VA Genomic Medicine Program Advisory Committee – composed of private and public health, scientific, legal experts in the field of genetics and veteran representatives – which advises the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and partners such as Veterans Service Organizations, the Department of Defense, and the National Institutes of Health.

VA is superbly positioned to conduct complex genomics research thanks to its large, diverse, and altruistic patient population and other unrivaled assets, according to VA officials.

“We have a research establishment that is embedded in an integrated healthcare system with a state-of-the-art electronic health record, fully equipped genomic laboratories with the latest in technology, and top-caliber investigators – most of whom also provide direct patient care,” said Dr. Joel Kupersmith, VA’s chief research and development officer. “The merger of these distinct attributes – with the veteran as a partner—make VA uniquely able to conduct this groundbreaking genomic research.”

[See also: VA plans to build open source EHR.]

For more information about MVP – including the safeguards in place to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those veterans who take part – visit the project’s website.

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