The Million Veteran Program: VA's genomics game-changer launches nationwide

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An unprecedented Veterans Affairs research program that promises to advance the sophisticated science of genomics goes national May 5, according to the VA's top official.

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

Dr. Robert A. Petzel, VA's undersecretary for health said, "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 health care for veterans and for all Americans."

The MVP is a 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 U.S., 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 consequentially advance disease screening, diagnosis, and prognosis and point the way toward more effective, personalized therapies, officials said.

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 5 to 7 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. 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.

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

The program has been developed in close coordination with the VA Genomic Medicine Program Advisory Committee --comprising private and public health, scientific, legal experts in the field of genetics and veteran representatives who advise the secretary of Veterans Affairs -- and partners such as veterans service organizations, the Department of Defense, and the National Institutes of Health.

VA researchers are positioned to conduct complex genomics research thanks to the large, diverse and altruistic patient population and other unrivaled assets.

"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."

By enabling researchers to analyze and compare the DNA and other genetic materials of a population of veterans potentially a million-strong, MVP represents a powerful tool in genetics research.

For more information about MVP, including the stringent safeguards in place to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those veterans who take part, visit