VA Wants Female Veterans to Enroll in a Genetic Study

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(Photo: U.S. Army/Marcy Sanchez)
(Photo: U.S. Army/Marcy Sanchez)

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a few good women veterans to enroll in a genetic study designed to help develop gender-based medicines and treatments.

The Million Veteran Program (MVP), which began in 2011, is one of the largest programs on genetics and health in the world. It studies how military exposures, lifestyle and genetics affect a person's health. Currently, there are more than 830,000 veterans enrolled.

Of those 830,000 veterans, only 80,000 are women. The VA is attempting to increase the number of female veterans who participate in the program.

Related: You Can Now Join VA's Million Veteran Program Online

Under the MVP, studies are being done on breast cancer and to research gender differences in other common conditions, including depression and heart disease. The goal is to provide better, more personalized ways of identifying and treating diseases based on a person's individual characteristics.

Doctors have long known that a patient's gender affects how they react to medications and treatment. For instance, the American Academy of Family Physicians reported a study that concluded "aspirin therapy has a better protective effect against stroke in women and against myocardial infarction in men." Studies like the MVP seek to determine the roles gender, race, age and other factors play in medical treatment and hopefully develop better methods of treatment and screening for factors that affect different populations in inordinate ways.

Historically, women have been underrepresented in medical and biological research, leading to knowledge gaps that can result in misdiagnoses and other shortcomings of care. The aim of the MVP is to tailor medical care to the individual and learn what underlying differences exist in different populations.

Dozens of studies have been published using MVP data, including a 2019 paper that found women are more likely to experience migraines, arthritis, gastrointestinal issues and mental health conditions. Women reported less frequent exercise and greater use of the VA for their health care needs, including the pharmacy. Depression is one of the most commonly reported conditions in female veterans.

These findings are important to medical screening and treatment policies, both in the VA and civilian care. Participation is easy, and usually requires only one short trip to a VA medical center. Participants are asked to contribute a blood sample and complete a few surveys that ask about health, lifestyle, military experience and personal and family history. All information is kept confidential; the VA is prevented by law from sharing or divulging any of your personally identifiable information.

Since the VA has a large number of patients who can be easily contacted and have their health records cross-referenced, it is a perfect organization to conduct such a large-scale study. And, through its coordination with medical researchers worldwide, the study can hopefully develop individualized medical treatments and care regimens for the future.

Check out the VA’s MVP page for more details.

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