Yesterday, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) reached the milestone of enrolling 5,000 participants in the Million Veteran Program (MVP): A Partnership with Veterans, and is leading the nation in enrollment efforts.
Air Force Veteran Robert Arrington was not showered with balloons and confetti when he was told he was the 5,000th Veteran to enroll from the Houston area, but the Houston MVP staff did thank him with an “Ask Me About MVP” pin and an enthusiastic round of applause.
“I received a pamphlet about the Million Veteran Program from the Lufkin VA clinic and decided to participate in the study because I thought it might be beneficial to other Veterans,” said Arrington. “The more informed the doctors are, the better they can do their job.”
This was Arrington’s first time to participate in any type of research program. He woke up at 3 a.m. and drove from Lufkin to Houston so he could participate.
“I didn’t know much about VA research before. I was surprised to learn VA invented the cardiac pacemaker and performed the first liver transplant,” said Arrington as he provided his blood sample. “With this study, I think understanding the genetic makeup will have a positive impact on reducing side effects from certain medications.”
The MEDVAMC is one of 40 VA medical centers serving as an enrollment site for this national, voluntary research program conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Research & Development. The knowledge gained will help better understand how genes affect Veterans’ health and illness, with the ultimate goal of transforming health care.
Participants are asked to complete a one-time study visit (approximately 20 minutes in length) to provide a blood sample for genetic analysis. Participation also includes filling out health surveys, allowing on-going access to medical records, and agreeing to future contact. This research program will establish one of the largest databases of genes and health history. MVP aims to enroll as many as one million Veterans over the next five to seven years.
Genes are made up of DNA and are inherited. They are the instructions for building and maintaining bodies. Genes determine the color of eyes and hair, height, and other personal traits. Through complex interactions with the environment and various lifestyle factors, certain genes may also contribute to the risk for disease, including illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
“Genes may be a critical part of why some people get diseases and others do not,” said Rayan Al Jurdi, M.D., a MEDVAMC psychiatrist, co-primary investigator of the MVP in Houston, and an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Genes may also affect how we respond to certain medications. Because of their genetic makeup, some people may respond better than others to a particular treatment, or experience different side effects. Overall, a better understanding of how genes work may help to prevent and improve treatment of disease.”
“In only ten months with the help of our primary care teams and laboratory staff, we are making great progress toward reaching our goal of enrolling 20,000 southeast Texas Veterans in the next five years,” said Laura Marsh, M.D., Mental Health Care Line executive and co-primary investigator of the MVP in Houston. Marsh is also a professor at the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine.
“The entire hospital staff has been working together to encourage patients to participate,” said Al Jurdi. “That is why the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center won the MVP of the MVP title for most valuable player in this research effort.”
Results from MVP will help improve health care for not only Veterans, but all Americans. MVP has extensive safeguards in place to keep Veterans’ personal information secure and confidential. Veteran participation does not affect access to VA health care or benefits.
Tammy Natividad, Doralene Smith, R.N., Sarah Torres, and Emily Boeckman are the Houston MVP representatives. They are located at the MEDVAMC in Room 6B-310 and can be reached for an appointment at 713-791-1414, ext. 6911. Walk-ins are also welcome.
Visit the website of the Million Veteran Program at www.research.va.gov/mvp to learn more. For more information or to participate, call the MVP information center toll-free 1-866-441-6075.
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