Veterans Leading the Charge on Genetic Medicine

Dec 3, 2018

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Since 2011 more than 700,000 veterans nationwide have donated their genetic information to help the Department of Veterans Affairs research the origins of disease and find new treatments. It’s called the Million Veteran Program. In 2015 MVP became the largest human genomic database in the world.

Genetic medicine is often heralded as the future of healthcare. It promises the ability to tailor medical treatment options based on an individual’s genetic traits and environmental risk factors. But determining how specific genes impact health requires data. A lot of data.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is in a unique position to tackle that problem. The VA provides healthcare to more than 9 million veterans around the nation. In 2011, the department began asking for veteran volunteers to donated one tube of blood to buidl a genetic database. To date more than 700,000 have participated, almost 3/4 of the "million veteran" goal. The information in that database will  help the VA determine the origins of disease and find new treatments.

Gwen Anderson, the local site investigator for Million Veteran Program in Hawaii, said that the data will shed light on both inherited genetics and environmental risk factors. As a population, veterans are often exposed to a wider range of environemntal conditons than the general public. 

Hawaii was a relatively late participant in the program. The Pacific Islands VA Health Center only stood up its MVP office last year. But early resutls are encouraging. According to Anderson, roughly 10% of local veterans have enrolled in MVP already. 

Although the goal of the program is to better treat veterans, it is very likely that the benefits of the program will trickle down to the broader population. Much as discoveries from the early space program eventually became common consumer technologies, advancements in healthcare coming out of the VA will likewise benefit non-veterans.