VA's David Shulkin: Million Veterans Program a boon to Precision Medicine, Moonshot initiatives

Health technology and information pulled from individuals involved in the Million Veterans Program (MVP) will help to propel both President Barack Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative and Vice President Joe Biden's National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, according to David Shulkin, of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Shulkin, the agency's under secretary for health, writes in a post this week at Bloomberg Government that MVP is working with both the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health to share information. Currently, about 472,000 veterans are enrolled in MVP, and Shulkin  anticipates that number will hit 500,000 this fall.

The VA's electronic health record and its Genomic Information System for Integrated Science (GenISIS), a data warehouse, will help to "yield new knowledge about which genes put people at risk for certain diseases, and which ones affect how people respond to treatment," he says. The information, Shulkin adds, is de-identified and coded to ensure privacy and security.

Last summer, the VA announced the launch of several studies within MVP focusing on heart disease, kidney disease and substance use. For one of the studies, at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, researchers will examine the genes that influence the impact obesity and lipid levels have on heart disease. Another will focus on using data to uncover the genetic risk factors for chronic use of alcohol, tobacco and other substances.

Shulkin says about 32 percent of the veterans participating in MVP have reported a cancer diagnosis and calls the data a "potentially rich resource" for researchers.

"Today, if you have cancer, your oncologist might recommend a treatment for you based on clinical studies that could involve several hundred or even thousands of patients," he says. "It's a good bet that most of those patients aren't like you--they may differ in age, race, gender, lifestyle or genetic makeup."

To learn more:
- here's Shulkin's post to Bloomberg Government