VA to use DOE supercomputers to transform veteran health data, further precision medicine efforts

Veterans affairs sign
The VA is teaming up with the Department of Energy to leverage supercomputers on decades of veteran health data.

Armed with a treasure trove of health data for 24 million veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs is using supercomputers at another federal agency to identify new treatments and prevention strategies.

On Monday, the VA announced a new partnership with the Department of Energy, which houses some of the world’s fastest computers in its National Laboratory. The VA plans to feed in health and genomic data that it has accrued over the past two decades to identify key treatment options for suicide prevention, cancer and heart disease.

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The latest partnership builds on the VA’s ongoing push to modernize its technology—a process that officials acknowledged has been rocky at times, particularly given the agency’s reliance on decades-old legacy systems. The VA is in the process of deciding whether to replace its EHR system with a commercial, off-the-shelf option.

The DOE is well-acquainted with the healthcare industry’s desire to turn data into actionable analytics. Last year, the agency lent its supercomputing powers to the Cancer Moonshot initiative. Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz noted that the agency has also chipped in on efforts to map the human genome.

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“We are partnering with DOE to use their high-performance computing capabilities to allow thousands of researchers access to this unprecedented data resource over time in a secure environment,” VA Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., said in a press release. “The transformative science that will be developed through this partnership will improve health care for veterans and all Americans.”  

The partnership will play a role in advancing the VA’s Million Veterans Program which aims to collect genetic information about veterans that can be used to understand risk factors for specific chronic conditions. The program has recruited more than 560,000 volunteers so far.

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