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  • Washington Highlights

    Veterans National Research Advisory Council Examines VA Research Priorities

    Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy
    Anne Berry, Lead Specialist, Implementation Research & Policy

    The Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Research Advisory Council (NRAC) announced several changes in the council’s leadership and composition during its March 7 meeting.

    Brigadier General David Young, III, MD (USAF, retired) has taken the position of NRAC Chair, after serving as co-chair. Also, among new members are AAMC Chief Scientific Officer Ross McKinney, MD, and Meharry Medical College Dean and Professor of the School of Graduate Studies and Research Maria de Fatima Lima, PhD.

    David Atkins, MD, Director of VA’s Health Services Research and Development Service and Acting Deputy Chief Research and Development Officer, presented a detailed overview of the agency’s research priorities for advancing veterans’ health. The VA Office of Research and Development (ORD) has identified three strategic priorities: access to clinical trials, effecting “real-world” impacts (including the VA’s revitalized tech transfer program), and developing VA data as a national resource.

    In addition, VAORD pursues four major clinical priorities that cut across its efforts and line programs: suicide prevention, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and opioids. Dr. Atkins also noted that, when adjusted for inflation, VA research funding has remained flat for more than ten years.

    VAORD Director of Bioinformatics James Breeling, MD, provided an update on the progress of the negotiations with Cerner to acquire an electronic health record (EHR) system that will be aligned with the Department of Defense’s system. He noted that VAORD is working to ensure that, after the transition to a new EHR system, longitudinal veteran data in the current system will still be available to VA investigators for research purposes.

    As an example of efforts to improve access to high quality clinical trials, last year the VA engaged with the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute (NCI), by which NCI has provided $10 million in funding to increase the number of cancer trials that are accessible to veterans. An example of the VA’s priority for developing data as a national resource is the agency’s landmark Million Veteran Program (MVP), matching genomic and other information with the VA’s comprehensive medical records for up to one million veterans. In a snapshot presented to the council, the program has currently enrolled more than 666,000 veterans, with more baseline surveys recruited.

    The VA is also collaborating with the Department of Energy for support for the vast, or “big data” resources created by the MVP, which stands prominently as a precursor to other high-profile, national and international efforts advancing precision medicine, including the NIH’s All of Us Research Program.

    The mission of NRAC is to provide advice to the Under Secretary for Health and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on research and development sponsored and/or conducted by the Veterans Health Administration, to include policies and programs of the Research and Development Office (VAORD).