Kidney Disease Research at VA Advances Care

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) kicked off National VA Research Week—May 13–17, 2013—with a briefing at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center. VA Research Week celebrates the contributions of VA researchers to high quality care for veterans and medical progress. This year’s theme was “VA Research Inspires”.

The VA maintains a comprehensive research portfolio aimed at advancing the treatment of kidney failure, as well as preventing and slowing the progression of kidney disease. VA leadership, including VA Chief Research and Development Officer Joel Kupersmith, MD, spoke at the briefing.

Kupersmith provided an overview of research at the Washington VA Medical Center and highlighted the Million Veterans Program, which is the largest longitudinal study ever undertaken. The program will study how genes affect diseases and has already collected blood samples and health information from more than 150,000 veterans.

The VA sponsored 59 events showcasing other VA discoveries nationwide, emphasizing that sustained funding is needed for the VA research, including kidney disease, that will lead to discoveries that advance health care not just for veterans, but for all Americans.

Posttransplant diabetes; predialysis dietician care

For example, Boston VA researchers recently found that men—but not women—with certain forms of two genes were more than twice as likely to develop diabetes after transplant compared with men with other gene forms. Scientists can use this information to help predict risk for diabetes and to better understand its root causes.

Minneapolis VA researchers also recently found that patients with kidney disease who see a dietitian before starting dialysis have a better chance at survival. Patients who saw a dietician for at least a year before starting dialysis had a nearly 10 percent lower mortality rate compared with those who had no care by a dietician.

“ASN strongly supports the VA research mission and wants to highlight its critical role in advancing medical science and quality care for America’s veterans,” said John R. Sedor, MD, ASN Research Advocacy Committee Chair. “There are also significant economic benefits to the nation. Medical research generates jobs, supports local businesses, and stimulates the economy.”

ASN is on the Executive Committee of the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA), which collaborates with The Independent Budget to recommend funding levels for VA research. This year FOVA and The Independent Budget are requesting $611 million for VA research and $225 million for critical infrastructure needs at VA research facilities in 2014. That $611 million is necessary to keep pace with the rising cost of research and to support new investigation into conditions that can affect veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, including polytrauma, or multiple traumatic injuries such as a serious head injury in addition to limb and vision loss or serious burns.

Many VA research facilities are also in dire need of maintenance and repairs. A $225 million investment in construction and infrastructure projects in 2014 would help address the most serious deficiencies. For instance, some labs lack crucial safety features such as emergency showers. A congressionally mandated VA report details the condition of all VA research facilities at www.aamc.org/varpt.

ASN participated in FOVA congressional meetings and launched a grassroots email campaign during VA Research Week in support of these budget requests. The society is also co-sponsoring a FOVA congressional briefing in June highlighting the benefits and importance of VA research.