Veterans Affairs hospitals and medical centers are playing an important role in advancing research and collaborative studies. Programs like Million Veteran Program have been critical to advancing studies in genetics and health. The VA facilities in the Deep South are being leveraged by former CCTS Pilot awardee Dr. Yaguang Xi and current awardee Dr. Courtney Alexander. The CCTS interviewed both to ask a few questions about the VA research projects they have underway. These projects provide benefits for American veterans, who, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, are increasingly from potentially vulnerable patient populations.

Dr. Courtney AlexadnerInvestigator: Courtney Alexander, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP, Ambulatory Care Pharmacist, Clinical Pharmacogenomics, Auburn University Pharmaceutical Care Center, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice, Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy
VA Research Location: Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center
Funding Mechanism: CCTS Interdisciplinary Pilot Award

What is your project focus?
I am implementing pharmacogenomics into the care of the patients at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center. I will soon be recruiting patients with major depressive disorder and then conducting panel testing to see whether or not the medication they are receiving is most beneficial to their outcomes. Is there an intrinsic factor affecting how they respond? For example, are they metabolizing medications too quickly, and requiring more than the recommended dose? This study will add to all of the efforts underway to understand how we can predict therapeutic failures before they occur. Imagine if we could avoid a delay in positive therapeutic outcomes. The more we know about how pharmacogenomics affects patient care, the more we can utilize it.

Why did you decide to work in the VA research space?
The Auburn University Pharmaceutical Care Center already has a collaborative relationship with the Tuscaloosa VA. We work closely with the population health clinic and have direct access to a patient data dashboard that helps with recruitment. The team at the VA is very interested in collaborative research and have been helpful to the process, which is sometimes more involved when working with vulnerable populations in order to ensure their protection.

Have there been any other benefits?
The VA has done a great job of providing veterans access to telehealth technologies. They have provided tablets for use in their homes but also allow patients to come to the VA to use those technologies. Also, Pharmacy residents conducting research projects are able to sometimes combine their efforts with researchers like me, creating some team science opportunities.

Dr. Yaguang Xi Investigator: Yaguang Xi, MD, PhD, MBA, Amgen Oncology Professor and Vice Chair for Research, Department of Genetics, LSU Health Sciences Center
VA Research Location: Southeastern Lousiana VA Medical Center
Funding Mechanism:
Veterans Affairs Merit Award Grant

Tell us about your research:
My lab is focused on treating colorectal and breast cancer, studying how non-coding RNAs contribute to the effect of chemopreventive agents that are available as repurposed drugs already on the market. Two years ago a new research facility provided the opportunity for approximately 15 investigators from LSU and Tulane to work more closely with the VA in a specific research capacity. In a few weeks I will begin working closely with VA clinicians in collaboration to hopefully really make a difference for their patients.

Why VA research?
New Orleans is a unique place, with major health equity challenges. Here, black Americans have a higher occurrence of those diseases. The VA is a good place to extend our research because of the access to that burdened population. Additionally, there are significant clinical challenge for the VA facility because the patient population has increased but there are limited resources to treat those patients. The cost to take care of patients with cancer is very high and if I can use my research to develop a new solution to target these cancers, designing a new therapeutic approach, we can improve their survival rate and reduce costs, allowing for more treatment. Service men and women have often suffered stress from their service, and I look forward to helping them, and to reducing the health burdens on them.

If you are interested in connecting with the research capacities at a VA hospital or medical centerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to explore collaborative opportunities appropriate for your research interests.