Richmond veterans hospital takes part in DNA database project

Posted at 8:23 PM, Jun 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-04 20:23:55-04

RICHMOND, Va, (WTVR) -- The McGuire Veterans Hospital is taking part in a national research project to develop one of the largest genetic databases in the world.

The Million Veterans Program aims to collect DNA samples from one million veterans from across the country over the next five years. So far, the McGuire Veterans Hospital has collected more than 600 samples, and hopes to reach 20,000 veterans, roughly half of the veterans the hospital serves, before the collection period is complete.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is hoping the database will help medical researchers compare genetic material to better understand common diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It will also help researchers study diseases and disorders that are particular to military veterans such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“There’s a tremendous amount of good that can come from this, just tremendous,” says Dr. Frank Zieve, a lead medical researcher at the McGuire Veterans Hospital.

Zieve says a database was developed after the Vietnam War to help researchers better understand the impact of Agent Orange, however it lacked the genetic component that will make the Million Veterans database a more valuable tool to the medical community.

Researchers plan to take DNA samples and couple that with the veteran’s service and medical history, and medications that they are taking.

Jerry Jordan, a Marine Corp Veteran, says he was reluctant to participate in the program at first, fearing an invasion of privacy.

“I guess in our culture and our society, there’s a knee-jerk reaction to that.”

Jordan says the medical staff at McGuire reassured him that all participants are assigned an ID number, and that samples are barcoded and not linked to a participant’s name.

“I hope down the road, it will help the many men and women who’ve served our nation,” Jordan says.

Only veterans who receive their medical care at Veterans Affairs are eligible to participate in the program.