Veterans taking part in massive DNA project

January 4, 2012 6:54:28 PM PST
Bay Area veterans are answering the call to help with a massive research project and when it is up and running, it could provide new answers for some difficult-to-treat conditions.

Marine Corps veteran Andrew Peters says he was one of the lucky ones. He returned from Iraq with no major injuries but now, eight years later, he is volunteering for a different kind of mission. He is donating his DNA as a part of a massive project being launched by the VA. Its goal is to assemble one of the largest genetic databases ever created.

"As a veteran, it's really a fairly minor contribution for my part for something that is likely to help me down the road, as well as my fellow veterans," Peters said.

"There's many things that we hope to get out of this database and this access, for future researchers," said Dr. Jennifer Hoblyn at the VA in Palo Alto.

Hoblyn is the director of in-patient mental health and says information gleaned from the genetic database may help unlock the physical mysteries of conditions like PTSD.

"It's a fascinating opportunity to really try and figure out what's going on. Why are veterans developing certain illnesses and not others, what is about some veterans that are resilient and respond to treatment and other people don't," she said.

Volunteers provide personal information including details of their service and any health issues that followed. Their blood samples are then sent to a repository in Boston for processing. The campaign is called "The Million Veteran Program" after the number of volunteers researchers are hoping to recruit.

"They're very giving of themselves. They've already served their time with their country. What's amazing, is they're coming back and they're giving more to this project, giving their DNA and giving their time," Hoblyn said.

Peters believes most veterans will see it as a duty to the service, to medicine, and to each other.

"I think they will. I think most veterans have retained the sense of the commitment that they had when they joined the military," he said.

Researchers expect it to take more than five years to recruit the 1 million veterans.

If you are a former service member interested in volunteering, click here for more information.