Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New structure for VA Research Outlined

Will provide expert advice from Gulf War veterans’ illnesses research community

By Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes Publisher/Editor

(Washington, DC – 91outcomes.com) - In a presentation today before the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, Dr. Joel Kupersmith, VA’s chief research and development officer, outlined recent planning efforts to create a new steering committee to guide VA’s clinical research and clinical trials related to veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

According to Kupersmith, four members of the new steering committee will be nominated by and may be members of the RAC, four will be nominated by the VA’s National Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), and VA will select a chair that could come from either body.  Both bodies have veteran representatives, including five ill Gulf War veterans on the 14-member RAC.

Until now, the VA’s research on Gulf War veterans’ illnesses has been given its direction by the Deployment Health Working Group, which has come under criticism by the RAC for failing to acknowledge the unique chronic multi-symptom illness in Gulf War veterans and for a persistent, excessive focus on the role of stress.

“One of it’s more important functions will be its coordination with Congressionally-mandated programs, like [the RAC],” said Kupersmith about the new steering committee.

Technically, the new steering committee will report to both the RAC and the NRAC.  According to Kupersmith, it’s guidance, “ideally consensus-based,” internally and with VA, will give VA it’s new research direction.

Kupersmith also highlighted the importance of fostering direct researcher-to-researcher interaction, including through telephone meetings and virtual meetings via the Internet and social media, and stated that this is now possible.

Dr. William Goldberg, scientific program manager for VA’s Gulf War research, added that while the program is by law an internal VA program, it is open to non-VA researchers who are willing to take a VA appointment while conducting the research.

“One of the things we have struggled with is how to get the best and the brightest, like those we heard from yesterday, involved in the research,” related to Gulf War veterans’ health,” said Dr. Roberta White, scientific director of the RAC and a senior faculty member in the Boston University’s School of Public Health, referring to presentations to the RAC about the role of glia – key cells in the brain and neurological system – in Gulf War Illness.  She expressed hope that the new structure might help.

“I think the fundamentals of our [scientific research] program are very important, for the veterans and for the country,” said Kupersmith.


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