VA ramps up research infrastructure

The department aims to harness data from 390,000 veterans to better understand chronic conditions.
By Healthcare IT News
10:35 AM
magnifying glass over data

The Department of Veterans Affairs is continuing to develop its national database program to learn more about veterans’ health problems. The VA said this week it's launching four new studies, in fact, using genetic and other data from its Million Veteran Program database to answer key questions.

VA's MVP is the nation’s largest database with more than 390,000 veterans enrolled and has been used to link genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military exposure information. MVP-based studies are already underway on PTSD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the VA said.

Timothy O’ Leary, MD, VA’s chief research and development officer, said an impressive amount of data has already been saved in the MVP program. "And we’re continuing to engage more Veterans in the program and building its research infrastructure through studies like these,” he added.

The new studies include the following:

Cardiovascular risk factors: This particular study, VA officials explained, will examine the genes that influence how obesity and lipid levels affect heart risk. Using MVP data, the study team will also look at whether these genetic factors differ among African Americans and Hispanics.

Multi-substance use: Researchers will look at genetic risk factors for chronic use of alcohol, tobacco, and opioids – and the dangerous use of all three together, VA said.

Pharmacogenomics of kidney disease: How genes affect the risk and progression of kidney disease will be the focus of the study. The project will look at the genetics of hypertension, a major risk factor for kidney disease. 

Metabolic conditions: Researchers will examine the role of genetics in obesity, diabetes, and abnormal lipid levels (namely, cholesterol and triglycerides), as drivers of heart disease.

The VA said the research will include understudied African American and Hispanic Veteran populations, in keeping with the broader national Precision Medicine Initiative announced earlier this year  by President Obama.

These new studies will also help establish 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 (CMS), the VA said.