V.A. Recruits Millionth Veteran for Million Veteran Program Genetic Database

The millionth vet joined the database on the afternoon of Nov. 8. Employees who had waited a dozen years for this second wept.

As the objective approached, the division had started an intensive e-mail marketing campaign, encouraging vets to enroll on-line or at V.A. medical facilities. In the few weeks building as much as the millionth vet, what had been just a few hundred enrollees a day was hundreds. The division created a ticker, which it posted on-line, displaying the numbers.

“This is a gift to the world,” mentioned Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the beneath secretary for health within the Department sVeterans Affairs.

The V.A. will proceed to enroll extra vets to the database, however this was a symbolic second.

For years, researchers have been building giant databases for genetic analysis. Using them they’ve discovered, for instance, genes that seem to confer resistance to dementia and ones that more than likely contribute to weight problems. The discoveries present paths to understanding these illnesses and growing remedies.

There are different giant genetic databases, however they’ve principally been in-built Europe and embrace few minorities. The V.A. says its database presents a extra numerous inhabitants: 175,000 individuals with African ancestry and 80,000 Hispanics joined the Million Veteran Program. The database additionally contains 100,000 women.

“It’s a massive investment and scientific opportunity,” mentioned Dr. Amit V. Khera, a genetic researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. He just isn’t a V.A. researcher, however he has used the info via collaborations with researchers who’re affiliated with the division.

As the database acquired members, about 600 V.A. researchers registered to make use of it. The outcome to date has been greater than 350 papers on illnesses and problems, together with post-traumatic stress dysfunction, coronary heart illness, high blood pressure and nonalcoholic liver illness.

For instance, mentioned Dr. Sumitra Muralidhar, director of the Million Veteran Program, researchers discovered genes linked to having flashbacks of traumatic events, a characteristic of post-traumatic stress. Now, Dr. Muralidhar mentioned, investigators can examine these genes and the function they play, which can assist in growing remedies for PTSD.

The division additionally says it’s being aware of affected person privateness. Although researchers can study genetic and different information and hyperlinks to medical information, fewer than 10 individuals on the V.A. have the hyperlinks that tie information to people. Those information, Dr. Muralidhar mentioned, are held at a facility in Boston that’s “heavily secured.”

In 2019, a nurse at a V.A. hospital informed Octavia Harris, 60, of San Antonio, concerning the Million Veteran Program. She signed up and mentioned taking part was an opportunity to assist different vets and to assist herself.

Ms. Harris, who retired from the Navy in 2012 after 30 years of service, mentioned three circumstances run in her household — diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. She is hoping that along with her genetic and health info added to that of so many others, researchers will make helpful discoveries.

In her household, Ms. Harris mentioned, individuals died younger.

“We haven’t lived beyond the age of 70,” she mentioned. “I want to go past 70.”

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