As a part of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ effort to address emerging diseases, the VA Office of Research and Development (ORD) has founded a central repository for biological specimens and data known as the Science and Health Initiative for the Prevention of Infectious and Emerging Life-Threatening Diseases (VA SHIELD).
VA SHIELD has been developed with the aim of establishing an extensive collection of disease samples and related information. This resource is intended to facilitate the progression of scientific knowledge about diseases and the creation of diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive approaches that can be readily applied in clinical environments. The VA SHIELD infrastructure currently comprises a Coordinating Center, twelve collection sites, two biobanks, and a bioinformatics core.
Since its establishment in January 2021, VA SHIELD has transformed into a fully developed biorepository prepared to assist VA research initiatives, and it has recently reached two significant milestones for medical researchers.
As of August 2023, the biorepository has amassed over 40,000 samples from VA hospitals, and VA principal investigators are encouraged to seek permission to utilize these specimens for research endeavors.
Furthermore, VA SHIELD obtained approval from the VA Central Institutional Review Board on July 20 to gather residual specimens from clinical appointments, along with specimens obtained with informed consent. Presently, VA SHIELD is actively pursuing partnerships with additional VA sites to facilitate the transportation of their leftover specimens and associated data to the VA SHIELD biorepository.
The VA SHIELD’s design and its intended applications promote an inclusive approach to VA Research. This approach enables not only traditional research and development sites but also non-research locations like VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) and rural sites to actively engage in specimen collection and donation.
A core principle upheld by VA SHIELD revolves around the utilization and recycling of specimens within the VA Research community. VA SHIELD considers samples that have been used but still hold potential for future research as invaluable assets. These samples are carefully evaluated for possible integration into VA SHIELD upon the completion of clinical trials and as a supplementary storage solution for previously used specimens.
Presently, VA SHIELD is supporting nationwide research in areas such as COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance, host response, cancer, and immune responses to infections and diseases. As VA SHIELD grows in size and diversity of samples and data sets, researchers and partners will have the opportunity to conduct more extensive clinical research. This expansion will enable VA sites to reaffirm their dedication to advancing scientific knowledge, conducting research, and enhancing health outcomes for Veterans and their families.