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MCW/VA collaborate on Million Veterans Program to determine how genetics impact health

May 15, 2013 College News - One large project aimed at helping improve Veterans’ health that involves Medical College of Wisconsin faculty is the Million Veterans Program (MVP). MVP is a national, voluntary program funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs aimed at determining how genetics impact health.

Medical College faculty, staff, and students are helping collect data (blood samples and health information) from Veterans who receive their care at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. The information is entered into a secure database that can be used to conduct research on diseases like diabetes and cancer, and military-related illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Access to MVP data for researchers outside the VA will happen using a phased approach that is currently under development. Data access will occur only within the secure VA computing environment, ensuring confidentiality for the participants.

Nationwide, the goal is to collect data from one million Veterans, which would help the Department of Veteran Affairs build one of the world’s largest databases linking genetic and clinical data. To date, more than 150,000 Veterans have enrolled in the program, including more than 5,000 Veterans from the Milwaukee VA.

“Data collected for the Million Veterans Program are going to have a huge impact on how we provide care to Veterans and others in the future,” said Jeffrey Whittle, MD, Professor of Medicine (General Internal Medicine) and director of the MVP efforts at the Milwaukee VA. “These data will allow us identify genetic patterns associated with developing specific diseases or with responding to a given therapeutic approach. As these associations are established, physicians will use a patient’s genetic make-up to personalize their care, just as we now use traditional risk factors to personalize treatment of lipid disorders or screening for colon cancer. 

“Exposure to projects like MVP is important for our students and residents,” Dr. Whittle added. “The sooner they can begin thinking in these terms, the more effective they will be as physicians.”

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