Office of Research & Development

Timeline of Accomplishments



2018

Study shows how binge drinking and stress affects male, female mice differently

Major study launches, new partnerships, and other initiatives

  • Initiated a wide-reaching partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study infection control and the proper use of antimicrobial drugs. (Jan. 2018)
  • Launched a telehealth program to serve Veterans living in rural areas who have PTSD. (Jan. 2018)
  • Partnered with the nonprofit organization PINK Concussions to encourage women to donate their brains to the VA National PTSD Brain Bank and thereby support PTSD and brain-injury research. (Jan. 2018)
  • Created a partnership with the National Cancer Institute to boost Veteran access to clinical trials. (June 2018)
  • Announced plans to merge VA data into the Millennium Cohort Study, which has tracked the health of more than 200,000 service members. (July 2018)
  • Reported on the formation of the Gulf War Era Cohort and Biorepository, to support research on Gulf War Veterans’ health problems. (July 2018)
  • Announced the creation of the Elizabeth Dole Center of Excellence, under the auspices of VA Health Services Research and Development, to conduct research to benefit Veterans’ caregivers. (Sept. 2018)

Key findings

  • Determined that heart procedures performed at non-VA versus VA hospitals entailed shorter travel distances for Veterans; similar or higher rates of death; and lower or higher costs, depending on the procedure. (Jan. 2018)
  • Developed a tool to predict flares in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. (Jan. 2018)
  • Reported that Veterans who had been hospitalized with ischemic heart disease were more likely to participate in cardiac rehab when home-based programs were available. (Jan. 2018)
  • Demonstrated that the use of a medicated skin cream could greatly lower the need for surgical treatment among Veterans with squamous cell carcinoma. (Jan. 2018)
  • Contributed to a study showing that a shortened course of prolonged exposure therapy could be just as effective as the longer, standard version of the psychotherapy to treat PTSD in active-duty military. (Jan. 2018)
  • Determined that cancer patients treated in VA are less likely to receive excessive end-of-life interventions than those treated through Medicare. (Jan. 2018)
  • Found that preterm births were more common in the six months after deployment for women soldiers and Veterans. (Jan. 2018)
  • Reported that a “balanced high-fat diet” could reduce cardiovascular risk in obese women. (Jan. 2018)
  • Showed that medication alerts for providers in VA’s electronic health record system can lower co-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines in high-risk patients. (Feb. 2018)
  • Found that repetitive head injuries could lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy even when no concussions had been diagnosed. (Feb. 2018)
  • Found in a large multisite clinical trial that the drug prazosin, used widely in VA to help ease nightmares from PTSD, did no better overall than placebo pills, although the researchers pointed to subgroups of Veterans they believe do benefit from the treatment. (Feb. 2018)
  • In studies in mice, produced results suggesting that chronic use of e-cigarettes may cause organ damage. (Feb. 2018)
  • Showed in lab studies that curcumin—the natural antioxidant found in turmeric—may have the potential to improve memory and mood in Gulf War illness. (Feb. 2018)
  • Developed a new scale to measure moral injury in Veterans and service members with PTSD. (Feb. 2018)
  • Discovered that a variant of the APOE gene that has long been associated with Alzheimer’s risk may be linked to worse psychiatric symptoms in people who have had a traumatic brain injury. (Feb. 2018)
  • Found in a multisite study that a program called Individual Placement and Support was more effective than older methods of vocational rehabilitation at helping Veterans with PTSD find sustainable competitive employment. (Feb. 2018)
  • Showed that many patients who will later be diagnosed with diabetes show signs of chronic kidney disease (CKD) even before their diabetes diagnosis. (Feb. 2018)
  • Used neural stem cell grafts to repair spinal cord injury in monkeys. The results were a step toward translating earlier results in rodents closer to human clinical trials. (Feb. 2018)
  • Reported that HIV patients on a single-tablet daily regimen had better treatment retention and viral suppression than patients taking multiple pills. (Feb. 2018)
  • Determined that VA had successfully implemented interferon-free treatment, based on newer drug regiments that are safer and more effective, for Veteran populations with hepatitis C who had previously been underserved, such as minority Veterans and those co-infected with HIV. (March 2018)
  • In one of the most rigorous trials on the topic to date, found that opioids did no better than non-opioid medications at bringing relief and boosting function for patients with common forms of chronic pain. (March 2018)
  • Found that gender-tailored alcohol screening could improve detection rates for unhealthy alcohol use among women Veterans. (March 2018)
  • Reported that written exposure therapy may be as effective as cognitive processing therapy for reducing PTSD symptoms, even though it involves a shorter treatment period. (March 2018)
  • Found that even a mild head injury can increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease. The study was based on the records of more than 325,000 VA patients. (April 2018)
  • Confirmed the lifesaving value of colonoscopy in a study of some 25,000 VA patients. The procedure was associated with a 61 percent reduction in death from colorectal cancer. (April 2018)
  • Found that longer gaps between doctor visits than are usually recommended—up to nine months, versus the standard six months—do not worsen the viral load for patients with HIV. (April 2018)
  • In partnership with the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, demonstrated a link between the widespread Epstein-Barr virus and several autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. (April 2018)
  • Found that involvement in research was linked to increased satisfaction and decreased intent to leave the organization among VA physicians. (April 2018)
  • In a large multisite trial, showed that two kinds of stents often used in patients who have heart bypass surgery are equally effective in preventing heart attacks, cardiac death, and repeat procedures to the arteries of the heart. (May 2018)
  • Demonstrated the ability of positive thinking to improve arthritis pain in Veterans. (May 2018)
  • Showed the value of mantram therapy—a form of meditation in which the person repeats a word or phrase with spiritual meaning to him or her—to reduce PTSD symptoms and insomnia in Veterans. (June 2018)
  • Documented a trend in VA toward less aggressive treatment of low-risk prostate cancer. (June 2018)
  • Showed that pain intensity following discontinuation of long-term opioid therapy does not, on average, worsen for patients. (June 2018)
  • Documented that a medical-records flag for suicide risk increased VA health-care visits among Veterans with substance use disorders. (June 2018)
  • Found, in a study of nearly 70,000 VA patients with kidney disease, that those who initiated dialysis at VA facilities had lower mortality than those who used non-VA dialysis centers. (June 2018)
  • Showed the value of a simple emergency room intervention to help reduce suicide risk. (July 2018)
  • Found that LGBT women Veterans were more likely than non-LGBT women Veterans to report missing needed health care due to concerns about interacting with other Veterans. (July 2018)
  • Found in surveys that homeless Veterans reported more positive experiences in VA facilities with homeless-tailored primary care teams. (July 2018)
  • Discovered that a protein called B18R reverses memory problems in mice with HIV. The agent shows potential for human application. (July 2018)
  • In lab experiments, showed that a regimen of low-dose aspirin could reduce brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease and thereby protect memory. (July 2018)
  • Released data from the SPRINT MIND study—a nationwide joint effort partnership between NIH, VA, and other health systems—showing that aggressively lowering blood pressure reduces the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia. (July 2018)
  • In the largest global study of blood pressure to date, based partly on Million Veteran Program data, identified more than 500 new gene regions that influence blood pressure. (Sept. 2018)
  • Found that an online diabetes prevention program could be as effective as an in-person program for weight loss. (Sept. 2018)
  • Found that “battlefield acupuncture,” a therapy in which tiny needles are inserted at points in the outer ear, was effective at reducing pain in either individual or group treatment settings. (Oct. 2018)
  • Using data from the Million Veteran Program, identified three genetic mutations that govern cholesterol levels. (Oct. 2018)
  • Identified white-matter abnormalities in the brain that may help explain the chronic headaches associated with traumatic brain injury. (Oct. 2018)
  • Found that long-term use of benzodiazepines in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and PTSD may lead to increased suicide risk.
  • Reported that post-9-11 Veterans with a history of repeated traumatic brain injuries—versus none—are at much greater risk for considering suicide. (Nov. 2018)
  • Led a study that determined that consuming alcoholic beverages daily—even at low levels that meet U.S. guidelines for safe drinking—may be detrimental to health. (Nov. 2018)
  • Showed in a mouse study that low-dose aspirin may have the potential to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis and ease symptoms. (Nov. 2018)
  • In a large VA Cooperative Studies Program trial, found that endoscopic vein harvesting, when performed by surgeons with sufficient experience and expertise, is just as safe as open vein harvesting—which requires larger incisions in the leg— for patients undergoing heart bypass surgery. (Nov. 2018)
  • Reported that a combination treatment called SMART-CPT led to improvements in PTSD symptoms and cognitive functioning for patients with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. (Dec. 2018)
  • Found that VA patients with diabetes fared equally well whether their primary care was led by a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. (Dec. 2018)
  • With funding from the Department of Defense, found positive results from transcendental meditation in a study involving more than 200 Veterans with PTSD. (Dec. 2018)

Technology advances

  • Reported that study participants using the advanced DEKA prosthetic arm—now sold as the LUKE arm—had less perceived disability and more engagement of the prosthesis in everyday tasks, compared with conventional prosthetic arms. (Jan. 2018)
  • Documented long-term usefulness of lower-limb neuroprostheses—implanted devices that stimulate nerves to cause paralyzed muscles to contract, thus allowing people with spinal cord injuries to stand and step. (Feb. 2018)
  • Reported on new methods to restore movement sensation in those with upper-limb amputations, using small, powerful robots to vibrate specific muscles in the residual limb. (March 2018)
  • Reported results from a clinical trial at VA’s Cleveland FES Center in which new methods were used to restore complete respiratory muscle function in people with spinal cord injury. (March 2018)
  • Published research on new approaches to functional MRI scanning that promise to improve the ability to accurately diagnose traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder; to understand how the two conditions interact; and to identify specific brain regions that could potentially be targeted for treatment. (March 2018)
  • Showed that pulsed xenon ultraviolet devices disinfect more effectively than manual cleaning in hospital rooms. (April 2018)
  • Found in animal models that photodynamic therapy—in which a medication activated by light and heat is injected into the body—may be an effective treatment for bladder cancer. (April 2018)
  • In a clinical trial, demonstrated that the mobile health app PTT Advisor, designed by the Centers for Disease and Prevention, improved physicians’ diagnostic decision-making. (June 2018)
  • In the first report on home use of such technology, documented improvements in psychosocial well-being and other parameters for amputees using new advanced sensory-enabled prostheses, developed by VA and Case Western Reserve University researchers. (June 2018)
  • Reported that the Wadsworth Brain Computer Interface (BCI) system was useful in preserving communication for patients with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), even in advanced stages of the disease, but that many patients were not able to use the technology as their disease progressed. (June 2018)
  • Announced, with private partners, advances in the further development and testing of a portable sensing system that can quickly assess the clotting ability of a person’s blood. (July 2018)
  • Showed that electronic triggers designed to search for key data could reduce delays in follow-up care for patients with suspected colon or prostate cancer. (Aug. 2018)
  • As part of the BrainGate collaboration, enabled people with paralysis to use their thoughts to control an unmodified commercial tablet computer. Participants controlled a Bluetooth mouse and performed tasks like web browsing and texting. (Nov. 2018)
  • Developed a device that uses electrical stimulation to affect the vestibular system and thereby improve balance; the device was successfully tested in Veterans with Gulf War illness. (Nov. 2018)
  • Successfully tested in mice a gene therapy, based on the urocortin 3 gene, that promises to treat congestive heart failure. (Nov. 2018)
  • Implanted bioengineered spinal discs into goats, in a demonstration of a potential new therapy to treat spinal pain. (Nov. 2018)
  • In a rat model of epilepsy, showed that transplanting neurons derived from stem cells could stop seizures. (Dec. 2018)


2017

Testing of the MEBot involves a large mechanical platform that tilts and lurches in various directions.

Major study launches, new partnerships, and other initiatives

  • Issued recommendations to address the need for more pharmaceutical treatments for PTSD, and launched the PTSD Psychopharmacology Initiative to address the problem. (March 2017)
  • Launched the PRecision Medicine in MEntal Health Care (PRIME) study to examine the value of genetic testing in determining which drugs are best for individual Veterans with depression. (June 2017)
  • Partnered with other federal agencies to fund $81 million in new research on non-drug treatment of pain for military personnel and Veterans. (Sept. 2017)
  • Published a journal supplement devoted to promoting health equity in the VA system. (Sept. 2017)
  • Completed enrollment of 50,000 Veterans in the CONFIRM study on colorectal cancer—the largest single clinical trial in VA history. (Nov. 2017)

Key findings

  • Published results from a series of trials on the effects of testosterone treatment in older men—among the most comprehensive studies to date on the topic—that showed, among other findings, that the treatment did not significantly improve memory or other cognitive functions. (Feb. 2017)
  • Published a review and meta-analysis on the benefits and harms of intensive blood pressure treatment in older adults that confirmed that treatment to at least current guidelines—below150/90 mm Hg—“substantially improves outcomes” for this population.
  • Published results from a large study on suicide risk and substance use disorders that found that current SUDs “signal increased suicide risk, especially among women, and may be important markers to consider in suicide risk assessment strategies.” (March 2017)
  • Linked trauma with eating disorders in female Veterans. (May 2017)
  • Reported on the potential benefits of peer mentors for homeless Veterans. (June 2017)
  • Reported results from a large study suggesting “excess risk of death” among users of proton pump inhibitors—drugs used widely to treat heartburn.(June 2017)
  • Published results from a comparison of two programs aimed at helping Veterans with prediabetes achieve a healthy weight, indicating that adding features from one—the VA Diabetes Prevention Program—into the other—VA’s standard weight-loss program, MOVE!— may help extend the reach of the latter in the VA population. (July 2017)
  • Found that yoga can help back pain and reduce reliance on opioids. (July 2017)
  • Published findings from a large study comparing treatments for depression, showing that in a mainly male population with major depressive disorder who were unresponsive to antidepressant treatment, the addition of the drug aripiprazole (sold as Abilify) resulted in a statistically significant but only modest increase in the odds of remission during 12 weeks of treatment, compared with switching to use of the drug bupropion (Wellbutrin or Zyban) alone. (July 2017)
  • Documented increased use of hospice care in VA, the result of a major initiative. (July 2017)
  • Reported follow-up results from a long-term comparison of two treatment options for prostate cancer, showing that surgery was not associated with significantly lower all-cause or prostate-cancer mortality, compared with observation. (July 2017)
  • Published findings from a major VA trial comparing two methods of heart bypass surgery, showing that off-pump surgery led to lower survival rates than on-pump surgery. (Aug. 2017)
  • Found, after adjusting for differences in age and sex, that risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among Veterans, compared with non-Veteran adults in the U.S.
  • Documented reductions in brain volume in Veterans affected by Gulf War illness. (Sept. 2017)
  • Reported the “first direct biological evidence” of DNA damage in Veterans with Gulf War illness. (Sept. 2017)
  • Identified a protein that may serve as a marker of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative condition linked to repeated brain injuries. (Sept. 2017)
  • Discovered genetic markers for the progressive (more severe) form of multiple sclerosis. (Sept. 2017)
  • Showed that Veterans’ mental health and housing improved when they accessed free legal services in a VA facility. (Dec. 2017)

Technology advances

  • Won “Best New Concept” award in the Blackwood Design Awards for the MEBot robotic wheelchair. (Jan. 2017)
    • Continued to report findings from ongoing research on the LUKE arm (formerly called the DEKA arm). VA researchers contributed to the development of the advanced prosthetic arm, which VA began prescribing for Veterans in 2017. (Jan. 2017)
  • Contributed to advances in a brain-computer technology that now allow fast, accurate typing by people with paralysis. (Feb. 2017)
  • Demonstrated, with collaborators, the mechanism by which electroacupuncture works to relieve pain. (April 2017)
  • Invented a waterproof wheelchair that runs entirely on compressed air. The device debuted at a Texas theme park for people with disabilities. (April 2017)
  • Enabled a patient with tetraplegia to reach and grasp, through the combination of functional electrical stimulation and a brain-computer interface. (May 2017)


2016

Notable gains
  • Announced a partnership with IBM to use the company's supercomputer Watson to help VA doctors tailor cancer care.
  • Entered into an agreement with the Department of Defense and the National Cancer Institute for routine screening of certain tumors for gene and protein information, to help individualize cancer treatment.
  • Announced a collaboration with the Department of Energy to use DoE's powerful supercomputers to help analyze Million Veteran Program data.
  • Began a major study, funded by the Department of Defense, on the needs of upper-limb amputees in the Veteran and active-duty population.
  • Enrolled the 38,566th participant in a VA Cooperative Studies trial on colonoscopy screening ("CONFIRM"), on the way to a total enrollment goal of 50,000, making CONFIRM the largest ever single VA clinical trial.
  • Launched an innovative "point of care" study, comparing two diuretic medications, that represents a new and potentially more cost-effective way of doing clinical trials.
  • With Yale colleagues, successfully tested in two patients a genetically tailored treatment for a severe chronic pain syndrome known as inherited erythromelalgia.
  • As part of international team, devised a way to deliver stem cells to heal diabetic ulcers. The method has yet to be tested in humans.
  • Found strong evidence of a link between high blood pressure and past exposure to herbicides in Vietnam-era Veterans.
  • Determined that a physical-environment checklist used in VA psychiatry units led to a sharp decline in inpatient suicides.
  • Confirmed, through a large database study, the effectiveness of new drugs for hepatitis C.
  • Launched a trial of pulsed low-intensity ultrasound to treat osteoarthritis of the knee.
  • Developed nontoxic nanoparticles based on ginger that could potentially help heal inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Found, in mice, that an infusion of stem cells could help prevent glaucoma. The approach is undergoing further study.
  • Developed a tentative panel of blood biomarkers that was able to verify a diagnosis of Gulf War illness with 90 percent accuracy.
  • Pinpointed genetic variants that appear to play a role in increasing the risk of Gulf War illness.
  • Found that "chronic multisymptom illness," usually associated mainly with Gulf War Veterans, may also be common in Veterans of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
  • Identified an uptick in lung disease between 2003 and 2011 in VA patients who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Developed a light-emitting nanoparticle that promises to help in the diagnosis and treatment of bladder cancer.
  • Successfully tested a telehealth version of VA's MOVE! weight-loss program.
  • Developed , with colleagues at Tulane University, a new drug that could be a safer, non-addictive alternative to morphine.
  • Showed that PTSD may decrease the ability of blood vessels to dilate, raising the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • In animal experiments, showed how stem cells could be used to regenerate damaged spinal cord tissue. Ongoing research aims to translate the approach to humans.
  • Documented a link between military sexual trauma and the risk of homelessness.
  • In a 10-year study of nearly 3,400 Veterans, found a strong link between misuse of opioid painkillers and eventual heroin use.
  • Showed how young adults' problem drinking may have long-lasting health effects.
  • With Defense funding and in partnership with non-VA sites, launched a test of stem cells as a possible treatment for a common form of heart failure.
  • Established that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans with epilepsy have a substantially higher death rate than their peers without epilepsy.
  • Found significantly higher rates of physical and mental health conditions in transgender Veterans, based on the records of more than 5,000 transgender Veterans and a comparison group of 15,000.
  • Showed that the cerebellum, a structure in the brain, is particularly vulnerable to damage from blast exposures.
  • Successfully used gene transfer to boost cardiac function in patients with heart failure.
  • In an extensive analysis of existing data, confirmed the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
  • Documented the long-term effectiveness of bariatric surgery for weight loss.
  • Created technology - surgically implanted neurostimulators - that allowed a man paralyzed by spinal cord injury to pedal his way to a gold medal at the first international Cyborg Olympics.
  • Announced a partnership with the Prostate Cancer Foundation to expand clinical research.
  • Demonstrated significant progress in restoring a natural sense of touch for those who use prosthetic hands.
  • Published a study showing the potential of videoconference as a way to deliver exposure therapy for PTSD.
  • Expanded the Precision Oncology Program nationwide, to all VA facilities, to help personalize cancer treatment based on genetic results.
  • Launched the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational (VE-HEROeS) study to learn more about the long-term health effects of Vietnam service.
  • Began a study to explore the role of precision medicine - namely, genetic testing - to improve the prescribing of antidepressants.
  • Published results of the second follow-up survey of Gulf War Veterans taking part in a longitudinal health study.
  • Established a musculoskeletal diagnosis cohort to advance research and treatment for more than 5 million patients with musculoskeletal disorders receiving care from VA.
  • Found that frailty screening was associated with better post-surgery survival.
  • Documented consistent improvements in VA surgical care over the past 15 years.
  • Confirmed that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) a progressive degenerative disease of the brain resulting from repeated head trauma is distinct from Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain disorders and can be diagnosed definitively on the basis of unique patterns of protein accumulation in neurons and other brain cells, albeit only upon post-mortem examination.

2015

pain
  • Invented a wheelchair that allows users to crank up the push rims to a standing position, providing them with increased functionality and independence.
  • Published preliminary results from a study of auditory sensory stimulation as an aid to recovery from severe traumatic brain injury.
  • Successfully tested, in an animal model, a method whereby skin cells could potentially be converted into insulin-producing cells to treat diabetes.
  • Reported 10-year results from the Veterans Affairs Diabetes Trial, which showed that tight blood sugar control could help reduce cardiovascular risk, although no survival advantage was found in the study.
  • Developed, with NIH colleagues, a predictive model that can identify Veterans at high risk of suicide based on indicators in their electronic medical records.
  • Reported results from a rigorous clinical trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for PTSD.
  • Found that for some smokers, lung cancer screening could be perceived as a substitute for quitting smoking.
  • Documented higher rates of PTSD in women Vietnam Veterans than had previously been found.
  • As part of the SPRINT group, published results for a major trial showing that lower blood pressure targets could have cardiovascular and survival benefits from some patients.
  • For the first time in the U.S., launched a feasibility trial of osseointegrated prosthetic implants, which allow an artificial leg system to be anchored directly to the residual bone.
  • Provided evidence to support VA's decision to make the ReWalk robotic exoskeleton available to Veterans with spinal cord injury who could benefit from the device.
  • Found, in a long-term study of more than 1,100 women, that memory problems that are too mild to show up on standard tests could in fact be an early warning sign of thinking problems decades later.
  • Reported encouraging results from a small study of transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat tinnitus.
  • Awarded major contracts from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), through its Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program, to help develop natural touch sensation for prosthetics users.
  • Determined that HIV patients who received antiretroviral therapy within a year of being infected were half as likely to develop AIDS, compared to those who waited longer.
  • Found in a VA-Department of Defense randomized clinical trial that hyperbaric oxygen did not provide therapeutic benefits for symptoms of TBI or PTSD, in line with previous similar findings.
  • Demonstrated the benefits of telemedicine-based collaborative care for PTSD.
  • Launched a study of light therapy to improve brain function in Veterans with Gulf War illness.
  • Found that a pulsed xenon light system can disinfect a hospital room as effectively as manual methods.
  • Contributed to new national guidelines for inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Found, in lab studies, that aspirin could block the growth of breast and other cancers.
  • Launched new studies on chronic disease, based on data from the Million Veteran Program.
  • Found, in a database study of more than 83,000 Veterans, that testosterone replacement therapy was associated with cardiovascular benefits.
  • Joined with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine on the Veterans Metrics Initiative, which will follow 7,500 recent service members to learn which programs are most helpful to them.
  • Reported promising early results from a trial of deep brain stimulation to treat refractory PTSD.
  • Showed the benefits of expressive writing for returning Veterans.

2014

Afghan/Iraq
  • Reported on new prosthetics technology to help restore the sense of touch for those who have lost an upper limb and use an artificial hand.
  • Showed how a virtual-reality computer application could boost the job-interview skills of Veterans with PTSD.
  • Published extensive study findings on the implementation of VA's new model of primary care, Patient Aligned Care Teams.
  • Published the first report from a new DoD-funded trial, led by a VA investigator and involving Vietnam Veterans, on the effects of traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder on Alzheimer's disease risk.
  • Announced funding of a new multisite clinical trial (VA Cooperative Study 592) on the safety and efficacy of implantable cardiac defibrillators.
  • Launched phase 2 of the Women Veterans Cohort Study, looking at data on more than 900,000 Veterans to better understand women's health needs, health care use, and outcomes.
  • Introduced "Concussion Coach," a mobile phone app for Veterans and others who have suffered a mild or moderate traumatic brain injury.
  • Joined with NIH in funding 13 new research projects aimed at developing nondrug approaches to manage pain and related conditions such as PTSD, drug abuse, and sleep difficulty.
  • Won a Service to America medal (Drs. Bauman and Spungen) for innovative work on spinal cord injury.
  • Continued to publish research findings on the advanced DEKA prosthetic arm, which won FDA approval in May 2014.
  • Found, in a large VA cooperative study, that vitamin E can significantly delay functional decline among those with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.
  • Launched a VA cooperative study on lithium and suicide prevention.
  • Showed that a test that looks for blood and DNA mutations in stool is highly accurate for detecting colorectal cancer. The test was approved by the FDA in August 2014.
  • Found that food insecurity affects more than 1 in 4 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
  • Determined, in a study of more than 16,000 births, that PTSD increases the risk of preterm birth.
  • Reported on an experimental drug that appears to exert multiple actions against Alzheimer's disease.
  • Found that Veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury may be at greater risk for dementia later in life.
  • Showed in lab experiments that an experimental gel, injected directly into the heart in the days and weeks following a heart attack, may be able to stave off heart failure.
  • Demonstrated the value of text messages as an aid to patients' adherence to critical medicine regimens.
  • Played a key role in helping to shape new national guidelines for the use of statin drugs for patients with high cholesterol.
  • Showed that Skype is an effective way to deliver psychotherapy to homebound older adults with depression.
  • Contributed to international research that identified important new genetic differences among people with schizophrenia.
  • Launched the largest-ever clinical trial comparing psychotherapies to treat posttraumatic stress disorder.

2013

PTSD
  • Announced the formation of new research consortia, funded jointly by VA and the Department of Defense, to study PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
  • 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 health conditions.
  • 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.
  • 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.

2012

Prosthetics
  • Published results from a major study of abdominal aortic aneurysms that provided valuable guidance on surgical treatment options.
  • Reported results from a large prostate cancer trial that shed important light on the relative benefits and risks of surgery and radiation.
  • Lasker Award given to Dr. Thomas Starzl for pioneering techniques used in liver transplantation.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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. (A 2013 update can be found here.)
  • 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

  • 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.
  • Combined efforts with the Department of Defense to form the Military Suicide Research Consortium to study 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.
  • 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 “off pump” surgery, which 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. Researchers found that non-burn injuries were associated with worse functioning at the time of hospital discharge, compared with burn injured Veterans.
    • 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 10,000 women now (in 2017) taking 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, D.C., highlighting VA's 30-year track record in comparative effectiveness research.
    • 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. (A 2015 update on the trial can be found here.)

2008

  • Published results of one of the first randomized clinical trials comparing different treatment approaches for those with traumatic brain injury.
  • 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

  • Unveiled the first powered ankle-foot prosthesis, developed in collaboration with researchers at MIT and Brown University.
  • 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.
  • 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 294 women.

2006

  • 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. The trial demonstrated the feasibility of conducting multicenter clinical trials to rigorously test new rehabilitative devices before their introduction to clinical practice.
  • Published findings from a trial on cognitive processing therapy for PTSD. The research set the stage for a nationwide initiative to have VA therapists trained in the approach.

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, 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. The study, the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, is now in its third phase, working to identify who may be at risk for the 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.

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.
  • 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 billions of dollars 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 stimulation for Parkinson's disease (PD). In 2009, the team published its results, which were that in patients with advanced PD, deep brain stimulation was more effective than best medical therapy in improving on time without troubling dyskinesias, motor function, and quality of life at six months, but was associated with an increase associated with an increased risk of serious adverse events.

2000

  • Showed that colonoscopy is superior to the more widely used sigmoidoscopy as a primary screening mechanism for colon cancer.
  • Reported results on the first large clinical trials of hearing aids, begun in 1996, documenting that the devices can help the hearing-impaired in both quiet and noisy environments.

1999

  • 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.
  • Identified a gene that causes a rare form of dementia, providing a potential target for treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

1998

  • Nobel Prize awarded to researcher Dr. Ferid Murad (who had been at Palo Alto VA 1981-1986) for his discoveries relating to nitric oxide, a body chemical that helps maintain healthy blood vessels.
  • 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.
  • Established first centers of excellence (now resource centers) for hepatitis C research and care.

1997

  • Identified a gene associated with a major risk for schizophrenia.

1996

  • Identified the gene that causes Werner 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

  • Contributed to the development of the first standards prepared by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) for wheelchair prescriptions.

1990

  • Discovered a peptide in venom from the Gila monster, a type of lizard, that would eventually serve as the basis for a widely used diabetes drug.
  • Contributed to the development of the first standards for wheelchair prescriptions.
  • Demonstrated that early treatment with corticosteroids reduces damage from spinal cord injury.

1984

Developed the nicotine patch and other therapies to help smokers quit.

1983

  • Developed and tested a new device that has led to improved wheelchair designs by enhancing assessments of upper extremity pain in manual wheelchair users.
  • Demonstrated that one aspirin tablet a day reduced by half the rate of death and nonfatal heart attacks in patients with unstable angina.

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.

1976

Lasker Award given to Dr. Rosalyn Yalow for developing the diagnostic technique of radioimmunoassay.

1975

  • Lasker Award given to Dr. Andrew Schally for his studies on peptide hormone production in the brain.

1974

Lasker Award given to Dr. Ludwig Gross for discovering leukemia- and cancer-causing viruses.

1971

Lasker Award given to Dr. Edward Freis for developing drug therapy for moderate hypertension.

1970

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.

1969

Expanded understanding of how brain hormones interact with the endocrine system.

1967

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

1963

Lasker Award given to Dr. Michael E. DeBakey for originating new techniques in cardiovascular surgery.

1961

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

1960

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

1956

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

1948

Introduced VA’s first mobility and orientation rehabilitation-training program for blind Veterans.

1947

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.

1946

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.
  • 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 S. Veterans' Bureau Medical Bulletin, designed, in part, to "promote research along practical lines."

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