1 million veterans sought for DNA database

DURHAM — The procedure that could, in a way, make Master Sgt. Clarence Gray immortal was quick, simple and mundane. The 59-year-old Sanford resident walked into a small, windowless room in the Durham VA Medical Center, filled out a survey, signed consent forms and held out his arm for the needle.

In minutes, it was done.

Gray plans to retire from the Army in September after more than 32 years of serving his country. But the two teaspoons of blood he gave last week will continue to serve indefinitely as part of a vast collection of genetic material that the Veterans Administration is building for research.

The Million Veteran Program could help transform healthcare for veterans - and everyone else - by leading to new ways of predicting, preventing and treating illness.

The goal is to find 1 million veterans who agree to allow their genetic material, medical records and information about their lifestyle and military service to be used for research.

This broad combination of different kinds of data will let researchers study complex interactions between the genetic material and, say, exposure to certain vaccines, alcohol use and exercise.

Some of the patterns that researchers will be looking for are subtle. That means the huge number of samples available could vastly increase the confidence in the results.

The national program started modestly last year, with just one medical center enrolling volunteers. Then seven more were added, including the Durham VA.

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