Last week, a little-known Veterans Affairs project launched its big mission to discover the affect genes have on health. What began as a pilot project at one VA hospital has blossomed into the Million Veteran Program.
Seeking to improve healthcare by personalizing screening and treatment, VA’s Million Veteran Program will pull together genetic, military exposure, health and lifestyle data on veterans receiving healthcare at VA facilities into a single database.
“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.”
Hoping for a million participants, program creators knew privacy would be a real concern. MVP was designed with that in mind.
The database will by available only to authorized researchers, and accessible only through VA GenISIS. Genetic samples will be stored securely and coded rather than labeled with identifying information. Researchers will not have access to names, addresses, Social Security numbers or dates of birth.
MVP was developed with the assistance of the VA Genomic Medicine Program Advisory Committee. Private and public healthcare experts, scientists and legal experts participated. The VA believes the research will result in better healthcare, and that veterans offer the best pool to draw from.
“We have a research establishment that is embedded in an integrated health care 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 ground breaking genomic research.”