By Gretchen Gibson, DDS, MPH
During this month of celebrating Veteran’s Day, it seemed appropriate to recognize another continued service of our Veterans, beyond their military time. The Million Veteran Program (MVP) is a research program designed to better understand how genes affect health and illness. Data collected as part of the MVP will help enhance disease screening, diagnosis and prognosis for both Veterans and all Americans.
Data collection began in 2011 at various VA hospitals throughout the United States. To date, the MVP has over half a million Veterans who have volunteered and enrolled. Therefore, this is now the world’s largest genomic database, or genetic biorepository. Veterans who volunteer are asked to complete a short questionnaire and donate one vile of blood. This genetic data is linked to their questionnaire and the VA electronic health record to aid in the development of new diagnostic tests, precision or targeted medications, precision therapies and to look at the link of military exposures to genetic susceptibilities to aid in novel approaches to treating these conditions.
Older Veterans are playing a key role in this research. In 2016, Gaziano et al looked at the characteristics of the Veterans who had volunteered thus far. Over 70% of the volunteers were age 60 or over, with a mean age of 64.4 (+13.4) years. An impressive database available to help address many of the chronic issues affecting or older patients.
Currently, there are 15 scientific projects that have been approved to utilize this data for further study. Eight of the ongoing projects include:
• Gulf War Illness risk factors
• Posttraumatic stress disorder risk factors
• Functional disability in schizophrenia and bipolar illness
• Genetic vulnerability of sustained multi-substance use in MVP
• Genetics of cardio-metabolic diseases in the VA population
• Pharmacogenomics of risk factors and therapies outcomes of kidney disease
• Cardiovascular disease risk factors, prevalent cardiovascular disease and genetics in the MVP
• Genetic risk for age-related macular degeneration in diverse Veteran populations
As a dentist in the VA, I have had the privilege to serve America’s Veterans for over 25 years. As the local site investigator for the MVP program at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, AR, I am humbled to see Veterans again stepping up to volunteer their time and information to help improve the health of other Veterans and all Americans. Again, another reason to thank our Veterans.
The Million Veterans Program is accepting volunteers at both the VAs in Fayetteville and Little Rock, Arkansas. If you are a VA-enrolled Veteran, or know a VA-enrolled Veteran who would like to participate, please call the MVP Information Center toll-free at 866-441-6075 for information or to set an appointment at either VA.
Gazianno JM, Concato J, Brophy M. et al. Million Veteran Program: A mega-biobank to study genetic influences on health and disease. J of Clin Epidomiol.2016;70:214-23.