Phoenix VA Clinical Research Center

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The Phoenix VA opened its newly renovated Research Building and Clinical Research Center expansion, offering a state of the art setting for researchers and clinical trial patients to conduct studies of conditions that affect veterans. Dr. Samuel Aguayo, chief researcher for the Clinic at the Phoenix VA Health Care System will talk about the medical research being done at the center to help veterans.

Josè Càrdenas: The Phoenix V.A. health care system opened its newly renovated research building and clinical research center expansion. The facility has a state of the art setting for clinical trial patients and researchers to conduct studies of conditions that affect veterans. With me to talk about the center is Dr. Samuel Aguayo, chief researcher for the clinic at the Phoenix V.A. health care system. Doctor, welcome to "Horizonte."

Samuel Aguayo: Thank you.

Josè Càrdenas: Welcome to Arizona. This is your most recent stop in a career that began back in Puerto Rico.

Samuel Aguayo: That is correct. From Puerto Rico, to Denver, Colorado. From there to Atlanta, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona, but always with the department of veterans affairs.

Josè Càrdenas: So you're born, raised and educated in Puerto Rico and then --

Samuel Aguayo: In Puerto Rico through my internal medicine residency, then I went to Denver, Colorado, to become a pulmonary medicine specialist, stayed there with the V.A. for a few years and traveled to Atlanta to be the chief of pulmonary medicine and chief of medical education.

Josè Càrdenas: Before we start focusing on Phoenix and the special issues it presents, tell us about the veterans medical system. As I understand you have four principle missions.

Samuel Aguayo: Correct. The Department of Veterans Affairs was created to serve the needs of our nation's veterans. There are three primary missions. One of course is to provide medical care for the veterans. But if we do not improve, we cannot attend to the very special needs of veterans that are somewhat different from the general population. Therefore, the V.A.s also charge with conducting medical research that is particularly relevant to the need of the veterans, and also to propagate the knowledge learned from this research by educating the next generation of health care providers.

Josè Càrdenas: As I understand a fourth area, though not commonly invoked is your backup for national emergency.

Samuel Aguayo: Correct. We are the responsible for serving the needs of the department of defense and also the public health system, whenever national emergencies or disaster strikes. And the latest example of that was when Katrina destroyed New Orleans, many of the people that needed transportation, medical care, and even social services were helped by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I had the honor of participating in that mission when I was at the Atlanta V.A.

Josè Càrdenas: Your particular area of expertise is pulmonary research and treatment. Is that a particular issue for veterans?

Samuel Aguayo: Tobacco-related diseases in general are much more prevalent among veterans. The reason dates back to unintended consequences from promoting smoking. This was really a way of trying to make our combatants being able to handle the stress of combat fatigue and other situations. And at that time when smoking was promoted in the military by lowering the price of cigarettes and permitting smoking in public places, we were not aware of all of the negative medical consequences from smoking as we are today.

Josè Càrdenas: And despite that knowledge today, you still have a higher incidence of smoking and related lung cancer among veterans than you do the population at large?

Samuel Aguayo: That is correct. And we think most of the lung cancer we see among veterans is related to the higher prevalence of smoking, but from time to time we have questions about other potential exposures, like agent orange during the Vietnam years, perhaps asbestos exposure for people that serve in the navy in the shipyards when we did not know that asbestos was also going to be a problem causing lung cancer. So smoking and exposure to other substances appear to play a prominent role in these diseases among veterans.

Josè Càrdenas: I want to talk about other issues that are of particular importance to veterans in the Phoenix area, but we mentioned the expansion. We're going to run some pictures of that on the screen while we're talking about that, but tell us about that.

Samuel Aguayo: Yes. Most of the research that is conducted in the V.A. we try to do that at the point of care during the same business the patient has at the medical center. So as to not inconvenience them. But we have clinical trials that have very special needs for equipment and certain types of procedures, and they're not easily conducted, in the regular clinic visits. The patients in the Phoenix V.A. now have a building, the clinical research center, where --

Josè Càrdenas: These are all those new facilities we're seeing on the screen?

Samuel Aguayo: Those are the new facilities we have available to conduct clinical trials that have been especially designed and are conducted for the benefit of veterans. We treat the patients with diabetes, with mental health diseases, with different forms of cancer, and what we learned today, and there's no building, is that we are going to be helping patients three, four, five years down the road.

Josè Càrdenas: You mentioned a number of very significant health issues for veterans, but what's the number one issue for the Phoenix V.A.?

Samuel Aguayo: I think in the Phoenix V.A. diabetes and related disorders is our main medical problem that we're focusing. But related to tobacco, definitely lung cancer, the earlier detection and treatment of lung cancer, and we are about to embark in a number of important studies related to mental health disorders. Not only those that are related to the stress of combat, but those that are related to traumatic brain injury, which is something that our younger veterans that are coming from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from.

Josè Càrdenas: Doctor, we're almost out of time. Anything in particular in terms of a message to Phoenix area population and specifically the veterans as to what's available for them at your facility?

Samuel Aguayo: We are enormously grateful for the sacrifices that our veterans have made. We know that we can reach many more of them, and provide the services they need and we invite them to come to the V.A., look at our facilities and also ask about how they can help us improve the health care of veterans.

Josè Càrdenas: Doctor Samuel Aguayo, thank you very much.

Samuel Aguayo: Thank you so much.

Josè Càrdenas: That's our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte," I'm Jose Cardenas, have a good evening.

Dr. Samuel Aguayo:Chief Researcher, Phoenix VA Health Care System;

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