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thumbnail thumbnail Drs. Christopher Bever (left) and Mario Rinaudo of VA's Office of Research and Development view a poster during VA Research Day on the Hill. (Photo by Alvin Williams)

Scientists display medical innovations at 'VA Research Day' in nation's capital

June 26, 2019

By Mike Richman
VA Research Communications

"I can't overstate the importance of research to the health and well-being of Veterans and other people."

Nearly 25 leading VA researchers, some accompanied by Veteran study participants, showcased their latest scientific, medical, and technological advances in Washington, D.C., as part of the second annual “VA Research Day on the Hill,” held June 20 at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

The exhibits focused on topics that are critical to Veterans, including suicide prevention, spinal cord injury, PTSD, prosthetics, pain and opioid research, cardio-pulmonary issues, and female Veterans’ research.

Army Veteran Keith Vonderhuevel (left), who lost an arm in an industrial accident, and Navy Veteran Ben Hutchison, who lost an arm and a leg in a motorcycle crash, joined the event to share their experiences with prosthetics research at the Cleveland VA. (Photo by Robert Williams)
Army Veteran Keith Vonderhuevel (left), who lost an arm in an industrial accident, and Navy Veteran Ben Hutchison, who lost an arm and a leg in a motorcycle crash, joined the event to share their experiences with prosthetics research at the Cleveland VA. (Photo by Robert Williams)

Army Veteran Keith Vonderhuevel (left), who lost an arm in an industrial accident, and Navy Veteran Ben Hutchison, who lost an arm and a leg in a motorcycle crash, joined the event to share their experiences with prosthetics research at the Cleveland VA. (Photo by Robert Williams)

VA Research Day on the Hill recognizes the discoveries and innovations that have led to advancements in Veterans’ care and the nation’s medical knowledge. The exhibitions included a comprehensive tele-eye screening program that provides better eye care access for Veterans; a specially designed “soft” door for patient rooms, without anchor points, that lessens the risk of inpatient suicide; a form of brain stimulation intended to improve the condition of Veterans with chronic pain and persistent headaches; 4D technology that helps match cancer drugs to tumors; and an artificial lung prototype that mimics the circulation of a natural lung.

More than 200 people flowed through the exhibit hall, including congressional staff members and representatives from Veterans’ organizations.

In her remarks, VA Chief Research and Development Officer Dr. Rachel Ramoni thanked all of the researchers for attending and “making discoveries that improve Veterans’ lives.” She also singled out VA’s top clinical priorities: suicide prevention, PTSD, Gulf War illness, pain management-opioid use, and traumatic brain injury.

“VA research has been around for almost 95 years,” she said. “From the very beginning, it was meant that our mission should be different, that we should focus on practical outcomes. VA has had a proud tradition of producing innovative and impactful research findings that improve the health of Veterans and the nation. Such efforts would not be possible without the support of VA research, the research scientists and Veteran participants who willingly serve to create innovation and discovery, and ultimately advance health care for our Veterans.”

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VHA deputy undersecretary for Discovery, Education, and Affiliate Networks, emphasized that Veterans are the “heart and soul” of the work at VA.

Dr. Noah Philip demonstrate part of a system that uses virtual reality to deliver therapy for combat Veterans with PTSD.  His research group at the Providence VA Medical Center is combining the technology with a form of brain stimulation. (Photo by Robert Williams)
Dr. Noah Philip demonstrate part of a system that uses virtual reality to deliver therapy for combat Veterans with PTSD. His research group at the Providence VA Medical Center is combining the technology with a form of brain stimulation. (Photo by Robert Williams)

Dr. Noah Philip demonstrate part of a system that uses virtual reality to deliver therapy for combat Veterans with PTSD. His research group at the Providence VA Medical Center is combining the technology with a form of brain stimulation. (Photo by Robert Williams)

“I can’t overstate the importance of research to the health and well-being of Veterans and other people,” Clancy said. “Just in the last 25 years, we have seen survival rates for many types of cancer increase, better and more varied treatment approaches for PTSD, and greater use of genetic information to tailor drug regimens to individual patients. I want to express my sincere gratitude for the unwavering support, generosity, and fellowship that we have enjoyed in our mission to improve the lives of Veterans and many others. I look forward to our continued collaboration to make sure that cutting-edge research and cutting-edge care start at VA for the Veterans we serve.”

‘Great opportunity to showcase translational research’

One of the researchers at the event, Dr. April Maa of the Atlanta VA Health Care System, displayed the tele-eye screening program. It provides better eye care access for Veterans, who are at high risk for potentially blinding diseases.

“I feel honored to be here,” Maa said. “I like to be able to show the good side of VA and highlight all of the research that VA does. This is a great opportunity for me to showcase translational research, which is taking something from science and applying it to the real world.”

Dr. Hardeep Singh of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Texas also attended the event. He displayed a project that involves a collaborative approach to develop and evaluate multifaceted “sociotechnical” tools and strategies to help reduce missed test results in VA. Failure to follow-up on patients’ abnormal test results is a key preventable factor in diagnosis and treatment delays in VA.

“I love this,” Singh said. “It’s a chance to showcase how our research can have an impact on clinical practice, patient care, and policy. We also get exposure to a crowd like this where you can influence someone to make decisions that will eventually improve patient safety.”

Four Veterans who have benefited from the innovations accompanied researchers to the event, including Navy Veteran Abriant Quintana. He suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while serving in Afghanistan and is participating in research with Dr. Albert Leung of the VA San Diego Healthcare System. Leung is experimenting with a form of brain stimulation, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), as a treatment for Veterans with chronic pain and TBI-related symptoms.

Quintana explained that after the TBI, he took opioids to help ease his symptoms, which included headaches, mood swings, irritability, and weight gain. He built a tolerance for the opioids and increased his consumption, saying they “exacerbated” his symptoms and even led to suicidal thoughts.

‘My whole outlook on life has changed’

But his symptoms have eased in the two years he’s been receiving rTMS, he noted, adding that he’s no longer on opioids.

“My whole outlook on life has changed,” he said. “I went back to college and earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Redlands. I want to go to law school. I’m learning the piano. I’ve had no negative side effects from the brain stimulation.”

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VA’s Office of Research and Development organized the event, which was hosted by Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA), which helps Veterans receive high-quality health care.

Supporters of the event included the National Association of Veterans’ Research and Education Foundations (NAVREF), which promotes research partnerships to improve Veterans’ health; and Research! America, which advocates for science, innovation, and discovery with the goal of achieving better health for all.


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