Million Veteran Program Enrolls 24,000th Member - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Million Veteran Program Enrolls 24,000th Member

Army Veteran having blood drawn by staff member for MVP.

Army Veteran Eugene Christen participates in the Million Veteran Program (MVP) at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center. MVP is a genome study that looks at how genetics affect health.

By Todd Goodman
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Million Veteran Program (MVP) at Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center recently enrolled its 24,000th member, bringing the nationwide total to more than 730,000 Veterans.

MVP is a genome study with the goal of enrolling one million Veterans. It looks at how genetics affect health. For instance, why one medication may work for one, but not another; why two people could fight side-by-side in a war zone but only one of them gets post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Regarding issues like PTSD, those are the kinds of questions we need to answer,” said Dr. Alan Swann, VA staff psychiatrist and Baylor College of Medicine Dept. of Psychiatry. “This study can help provide those answers. It gives us a great repository not only of genetic material, but questionnaires about health, and the electronic record, the treatments they got, and how they responded to them. You just can’t get that kind of knowledge in a conventional study.”

VA researchers use MVP data to examine various illnesses and conditions that are prevalent among Veterans. However, they also emphasize issues that affect all people—including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

“I think MVP is a terrific investment in the future of medicine,” said Swann. “This program is forward thinking and ambitious, but also very practical.”

The most important thing is to continue to amass data. Houston VAMC currently ranks second nationally in enrolling MVP Veterans, but initially the medical center struggled with enrollment.

“We were trying to sign people up over the phone,” said Bonito Manego, MVP research coordinator. “I’d call 100 Veterans and enroll just a couple.”

That changed when MVP recruiters moved to the lab. All it takes to enroll is a signature and one extra vial of blood during a routine lab visit.

“Ever since we began recruiting in person, our numbers have gone up significantly,” he said. “We currently enroll about 15 Veterans per day.”

Army and Vietnam Veteran Eugene Christen enrolled at the behest of Vietnam Veterans of America Texas State Council, which urged its members to take part in the study.

“I’m just trying to do my part,” said Christen. “A lot of our guys are suffering the effects of Agent Orange. We want more information and hope that this genome study can provide it.”

There still is a long way to go to understand genetics and the role they play in disease, but the future looks bright with this study.

“We haven’t had the data of the population to study this thoroughly,” said Swann. “That is the most exciting thing about MVP—the repository of information that will be available to researchers.”


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