Office of Research & Development

 

Historical Accomplishments

2013

  • Announced the formation of new research consortia, funded jointly by VA and the Department of Defense, to study PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
  • Published results from a major study of abdominal aortic aneurysms that provided valuable guidance on surgical treatment options.
  • Funded new types of centers of excellence—Collaborative Research to Enhance Transformation and Excellence (CREATE) and Centers of Innovation (COINs)—that promise to speed the translation of research results into clinical practice in VA.
  • Reported results from a large prostate cancer trial that shed important light on the relative benefits and risks of surgery and radiation.
  • Played a key role in University of Pittsburgh-led research on a brain-computer system that enabled a woman with total paralysis to control a robotic arm using only her thoughts.
  • Published findings from the first rigorous, large-scale comparison of different methods to wean patients with breathing difficulties from ventilators.
  • Reported that infections acquired in the hospital are less likely to occur when acute-care patients are bathed daily with a simple, inexpensive antiseptic.
  • Began collaboration with the Department of Defense on a $6.5 million study to learn whether Vietnam Veterans with traumatic brain injury or PTSD are at higher risk for Alzheimer's disease as they age.
  • Reported positive results from one of the largest studies to date on the use of videoconferencing to deliver evidence-based psychotherapy for Veterans with PTSD.
  • Found that many Veterans suffering from blast concussions may have hormone deficiencies that mimic some of the symptoms of PTSD and depression, underscoring the value of hormone-based treatments for traumatic brain injury.
  • Published new data indicating that Veterans exposed to Agent Orange are not only at higher risk for prostate cancer, but also more likely to have aggressive forms of the disease—information that could help guide screening and treatment.
  • Disseminated information to gastroenterologists on innovative research-based methods to improve the cancer-detection rate of colonoscopy.
  • Contributed to new clinical guidelines for cholesterol management.
  • Collaborated with researchers in Europe and Israel to develop and test a new type of "artificial pancreas" that could lead to major improvements in care for diabetes, and that promises to impact cell therapy for a variety of other chronic health conditions.

2012

  • Dedicated the Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology at the Providence VA Medical Center.
  • Enrolled the 100,000th Veteran participant in the Million Veteran Program, a major research effort aimed at better understanding the role of genes in health.
  • Celebrated the 50th anniversary in VA Research of Nobel-winning scientist Dr. Andrew V. Schally.
  • Joined with the Department of Defense in funding $100 million in new research on traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Showed in animal studies how a therapy combining stem cells and growth factors may help heal spinal cord injury.
  • Found that "observation" is as effective as surgery to treat early-stage prostate cancer.
  • Identified a gene variant that appears to substantially increase the risk of posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Reported that patients with Parkinson's disease who undergo deep brain stimulation can expect stable improvements in movement-related symptoms for at least three years.
  • Reported on major advances in the BrainGate brain-computer interface system, enabling patients with paralysis to operate a robotic arm using only their thoughts.
  • Found that African American Veterans with diabetes could benefit clinically from a peer mentor program.
  • Documented the effectiveness of a supported-employment model known as "individualized placement and support" in helping Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder get back to work.

2011

  • Launched the Million Veteran Program (MVP), which will establish one of the world's largest databases of health and genetic information, for use in future research aimed at preventing and treating illness among Veterans and all Americans.
  • Brought into clinical use a bionic prosthetic ankle developed by a researcher affiliated with VA's Center for Restorative and Regenerative Medicine.
  • Developed an artificial lung prototype that mimics the structure of a natural lung and is described as a "significant step toward creating the first truly portable and implantable artificial lung systems."
  • Contributed to an international study validating a new preventive drug regimen for tuberculosis.
  • Collaborated with the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health on publishing "common data elements" to speed progress on research focused on traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Published findings showing a 60 percent or greater decrease in MRSA infections from a VA-wide infection-control initiative.
  • Demonstrated the effectiveness of an insulin-based treatment, using a special nasal delivery system, that may help ward off Alzheimer's disease.
  • Contributed to an international genetic study that identified potential new drug targets for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • Showed that copper surfaces in hospital rooms could kill germs and prevent hospital-acquired infections.
  • Published an article describing a VA study that is one of the first examples of "point of care" research, an innovative way of conducting large clinical trials.
  • Made progress toward using "natural language processing" to expand the role of electronic medical records in improving medical care.
  • Launched collaboration with the University of Maryland to explore the potential role of IBM's "Watson" computer system as an aid to medical decision-making.
  • Published new guidebook for researchers to facilitate joint studies between VA and the Department of Defense.
  • Expanded funding for studying complementary and alternative medicine to treat PTSD and other conditions.
  • Expanded the REACH (Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer's Caregiver Health in VA) program to support caregivers of Veterans with Alzheimer's disease throughout the nation. In the program, based on earlier research by VA and university investigators, caregivers are provided individual and group counseling, a caregiver guide, education on safety and patient behavior management, and training for their individual health and well being.
  • Identified a potential blood marker for cognitive decline, through a study of nearly 1,000 older volunteers.
  • Published study results showing that the tiny, biocompatible brain implant that is part of the BrainGate neural control system remains viable and continues to effectively record brain signals for at least 2.7 years. The technology promises to help those with paralysis achieve more independence, and is also being studied as a prosthetic control system.

2010

  • As part of the VA Genomic Medicine Program, announced a groundbreaking genetics study—the Million Veteran Program—to study the effects genes have on health, with some one million Veterans expected to take part over the next five to seven years.
  • Combined efforts with VA/ U.S. Army studied ways to prevent suicide among active-duty service members, Veterans, and reservists and to build on existing suicide research in VA, DoD, and the civilian sector; conducted research with U.S. Marines to determine why certain service members develop PTSD while others do not.
  • Began work on a computerized vision system to bridge limits of handheld GPS devices for blind users and offer additional mobility and independence for Veterans with vision loss.
  • Determined that Veterans with mental health conditions, especially PTSD, have more physical ailments, and that older veterans with chronic PTSD had a higher risk for dementia than their peers without the disorder.
  • Found evidence that prior head injury may double the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
  • Determined that robots can be used to provide repetitive, high-intensity therapy for stroke patients, building on earlier findings that patients can recover function through therapy even years after a stroke.
  • Found that the immune system is likely to have a role in the development of Parkinson's disease.
  • Demonstrated a prototype of an artificial lens that could potentially restore natural focusing ability in eyes with cataracts and can be placed in the eye through a technique that is less invasive than current cataract surgery.
  • Identified a potential biomarker for PTSD through the use of a super-fast scanner that captures cross talk between groups of neurons in the brain.
  • Found that smoking cessation treatment that is made part of mental health care for Veterans with PTSD improves quit rates in those Veterans.

2009

  • Showed that the traditional "on pump" method of heart bypass surgery yields better outcomes after one year than a newer method that does not use a heart-lung machine.
  • Reported that deep brain simulation, though potentially riskier than drug therapy, may hold significant benefits for those with Parkinson's disease who no longer respond well to medication alone.
  • Launched four-year study of long-term health and social outcomes of OEF/OIF Veterans with serious burn injuries.
  • Began first-of-its kind study at VA medical centers to optimize the design of an advanced prosthetic arm, made by DEKA Research and Development through funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
  • Commissioned studies by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University that determined that most Veterans who have received health care through VA would support and participate in genomics research.
  • Launched the "Consortium for Healthcare Informatics Research" and a related project, "Veterans' Informatics, Information, and Computing Infrastructure," to maximize the clinical and research value of VA's state-of-the art electronic medical records.
  • Initiated the largest health study ever of Vietnam-era women Veterans, with up to 10,000 women expected to take part.
  • Launched one of the largest studies to date on the genetics of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to involve 38,000 Veterans at more than 20 VA sites.
  • Held symposium in Washington, DC, highlighting VA's 30-year track record in comparative effectiveness research.

2008

  • Published results of one of the first randomized clinical trials comparing different treatment approaches for those with traumatic brain injury.
  • Published the results of the landmark seven-year VA Diabetes Trial, which found that intensive control of blood glucose in type 2 diabetes does little to cut the risk of heart disease, compared with standard treatment.
  • Sponsored an international conference on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and expanded VA research in this area, including studies looking at TBI in association with posttraumatic stress disorder, hearing and vision loss, chronic pain, and other conditions.
  • Demonstrated in a large multisite clinical trial that more intensive treatment for acute kidney injury—for example, dialysis six times instead of three times per week—may not produce any added benefit.
  • Published a major review article on genomic medicine that found that on the whole, health professionals and the public are unprepared to make effective use of genomics to prevent, diagnose or treat common chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease. The findings are helping to guide further VA research in this area.
  • Launched a nationwide expansion of an Alzheimer's-caregiver program that was recognized by the Recognition of Excellence in Aging Research program of the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging.
  • Showed that flat lesions in the colon—considered until recently to be rare in the United States and generally ignored during colonoscopies—are more common than previously thought. Moreover, they are far more likely to be cancerous than polyps, the small raised knobs of tissue that often contain or signal cancer and are the main target for detection and removal during colonoscopies.
  • Confirmed, in a treadmill study involving nearly 16,000 Veterans, the link between cardiovascular fitness and longer life. The study was the first of its kind to include a large number of African Americans, who are at higher risk for hypertension and other conditions that could conceivably offset the benefits of exercise.
  • Enacted a new policy mandating the use of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements to facilitate and expand collaborations between VA researchers and private pharmaceutical and biomedical companies. The goal is to speed the development and implementation of effective new medical treatments for Veterans.

2007

  • Established the Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans, based at the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System, to augment research on brain injuries, PTSD and other combat-related conditions.
  • Unveiled the first powered ankle-foot prosthesis, developed in collaboration with researchers at MIT and Brown University.
  • Found that prazosin, an inexpensive generic drug already used by millions of Americans for high blood pressure and prostate problems, could improve sleep and lessen trauma nightmares in Veterans with PTSD.
  • Established a Pharmacogenomics Analysis Laboratory at the Little Rock VA to conduct diagnostic or treatment-related genetic tests for individual VA patients and to serve as a genetic research lab for VA's Cooperative Studies Program.
  • Published the results of a major clinical trial, conducted with Canadian researchers, that found that balloon angioplasty and stenting did little to improve outcomes for patients with stable coronary artery disease who also received optimal drug therapy and underwent lifestyle changes.
  • Demonstrated the benefits of prolonged-exposure therapy as a treatment for PTSD in a clinical trial that included 284 women.

2006

  • Established the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the San Francisco VA, in collaboration with the Department of Defense
  • Published the results of a major study on dietary supplements for arthritis, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health
  • Launched a Genomic Medicine initiative to advance knowledge of how genes affect health and to promote personalized medicine for Veterans
  • Reported major advances in the development of a brain-computer interface that will enable patients with spinal cord injury and other immobilizing conditions to function more independently
  • Launched a multisite trial to test robotic therapy for stroke rehabilitation

2005

  • Showed the effectiveness of a new vaccine for shingles, a painful skin and nerve infection that affects older adults.
  • Announced major funding initiatives for research on neurotrauma, chronic pain and other health problems prevalent in combat-wounded Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

2004

  • Showed that the antioxidant lutein could not only help prevent macular degeneration, but also reverse symptoms.
  • Established a major center of excellence, in partnership with Brown University and MIT, to develop state-of-the-art prosthetics for Veteran amputees.
  • Took on leadership of a five-year, $60-million study nationwide study—funded by the National Institute on Aging and other partners—to identify brain changes linked to Alzheimer's disease.

2003

  • Created a national registry of Veterans with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) to track the health status of Veterans with the disease and help recruit research participants.
  • Showed that a costly new schizophrenia drug may be no more effective than older, less expensive treatments.
  • Launched the largest-ever clinical trial of psychotherapy to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

2002

  • Published, together with National Institutes of Health colleagues, the main results from the landmark ALLHAT study, the largest hypertension study ever, which found that conventional diuretics were better than newer medicines for treating high blood pressure.
  • Developed, in partnership with U.S. Army and university researchers, an oral drug that promises to halt the deadly action of smallpox.
  • Produced key clinical findings on ghrelin, a recently discovered "hunger hormone."
  • Found that patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who underwent mock arthroscopic surgery were as likely to report pain relief as those who received the real operation, challenging the usefulness of a common medical procedure on which Americans spend more than $3 billion each year.

2001

  • Began the first clinical trial under the Tri-National Research Initiative, with researchers from VA collaborating with colleagues from Canada and the United Kingdom to determine the optimal antiretroviral therapy for HIV.
  • Initiated a landmark clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of deep brain stimulators for Parkinson's disease.

2000

  • Showed that colonoscopy is superior to the more widely used sigmoidoscopy as a primary screening mechanism for colon cancer.
  • Conducted the first large clinical trials of hearing aids, documenting that the devices can help the hearing-impaired in both quiet and noisy environments.

1999

  • Found that a chemical messenger and a neurotoxin can shut down neurons associated with chronic pain while leaving intact those needed for a normal pain response.
  • Launched the first treatment trials for Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, focusing on antibiotics and exercise.
  • Established, through a large clinical trial using the drug gemfibrozil, that raising HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowering triglycerides could prevent heart attacks and coronary deaths.

1998

  • Nobel Prize awarded to VA researcher Dr. Ferid Murad for his discoveries relating to nitric oxide, a body chemical that helps maintain healthy blood vessels.
  • Identified a gene that causes a rare form of dementia, providing a potential target for treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Found that less expensive, conservative treatment of a common type of heart attack is superior to the standard heart catheterization and balloon angioplasty.
  • Demonstrated that administering erythropoetin under the skin is as effective and less expensive than intravenous administration for treatment of severe anemia in hemodialysis patients.
  • Started the Quality Enhancement Research Initiative to help translate research results into clinical practice for conditions prevalent among Veterans.

1997

Identified a gene associated with a major risk for schizophrenia.

1996

  • Identified the gene that causes Werner's syndrome, a disease marked by premature aging.
  • Developed clinical practice guidelines on cholesterol screening for the American College of Physicians.
  • Found that an implantable insulin pump offers better blood sugar control, weight control and quality of life for adult-onset diabetes than multiple daily injections.

1995

Conducted the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program, which is instrumental in identifying ways to improve surgical care.

1994

Demonstrated that one aspirin tablet a day reduced by half the rate of death and nonfatal heart attacks in patients with unstable angina.

1993

Developed and tested a new device that has led to improved wheelchair designs by enhancing assessments of upper extremity pain in manual wheelchair users.

1991

  • Developed Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) systems that allow patients to move paralyzed limbs.
  • Demonstrated that early treatment with corticosteroids reduces damage from spinal cord injury.

1990

Contributed to the development of the first standards for wheelchair prescriptions.

1989

Invented a computer system that provides patients on ventilators with more accurate respirator settings, fewer medical complications, and better outcomes.

1984

Developed the nicotine patch and other therapies to help smokers give up the habit.

1977

Nobel Prize awarded to VA researchers Dr. Andrew Schally, for his research on peptide hormone production in the brain; and Dr. Rosalyn Yalow, for her development of radioimmunoassay to detect and measure various substances in the blood.

1970

  • Expanded understanding of how brain hormones interact with the endocrine system.
  • Published the results of a landmark VA Cooperative Study on hypertension, showing that drug treatment was effective in controlling blood pressure and reducing the incidence of major cardiovascular events.

1968

Performed the first successful liver transplants and developed techniques for suppressing the body's natural attempt to reject transplanted tissue.

1961

Conducted groundbreaking work with radioisotopes that led to the development of modern radioimmunoassay diagnostic techniques.

1960

Pioneered the concepts that led to development of computerized axial tomography (CAT scan).

1958

Invented the implantable cardiac pacemaker, helping many patients prevent potentially life-threatening complications from irregular heartbeats.

1947

Introduced the first mobility and orientation rehabilitation-training program for blind persons.

1946

  • Developed and tested effective therapies for tuberculosis following World War II. Multi-center clinical trials led to development of the Cooperative Studies Program, which has since produced effective treatments for diseases and conditions including schizophrenia, diabetes, depression, heart disease and stroke.
  • Established the standard for developing better-fitting, lighter artificial limbs through studies of human locomotion, enhanced surgical techniques and modernized design and manufacturing methods.

1941

Established a research lab at the Northport (N.Y.) VA medical center to conduct clinical and biomedical research in neuropsychiatric disorders; contribute to the nationwide standardization of diagnostic and treatment methods; and teach the latest concepts and methods in neurology, psychiatry, and neuropathology to VA doctors.

1935

Published a series of articles in the New England Journal of Medicine about heart disease among Veterans.

1932

Published data comparing outcomes at VA clinics with those at other hospitals. The VA facilities compared favorably. Also, established the Tumor Research Laboratory at the Hines (Ill.) VA-the first research lab to receive funds from VA Central Office specifically for research.

1928

Reported findings from early VA studies looking at treatments for malaria, the long-term health effects of chemical warfare, and hospitalization and mortality among Veterans with mental illness.

1925

Conducted the first hospital-based medical studies to be formally considered part of VA's newly established research program. Began publishing the U.S. Veterans' Bureau Medical Bulletin, designed, in part, to "promote research along practical lines."