Date: Feb. 24, 2006 Contacts: Christine Stencel, Media Relations Officer Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant Office of News and Public Information 202-334-2138; e-mail <email@example.com>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Air Force Health 'Ranch Hand' Study Data and Materials Merit Further Study And Should Be Transferred to New, Active Management
WASHINGTON -- The Air Force Health Study (AFHS) – also known as the Ranch Hand Study -- was initiated by the U. S. Air Force in 1979 to assess the possible health effects of military personnel's exposure to Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants sprayed during the Vietnam War, some of which contained dioxin. Although the study is scheduled to end on Sept. 30 of this year, the medical records, data, and biological specimens collected are a trove of valuable research material, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. AFHS's data assets should be transferred to a new custodial organization that would make the materials available for ongoing research, said the committee that wrote the report.
"While it's not a perfect source of information on Vietnam veterans' health, no other collection of data contains such detailed information on these former service members over as long a time period, so further study of these materials is warranted," said David Tollerud, committee chair and chair of the department of environmental and occupational health sciences, University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky. "We believe there are a number of organizations that have the appropriate knowledge and capacity take over management of the specimens and data and foster future research while protecting the privacy and rights of the research participants."
The committee considered several organizations to be viable candidates to manage the AFHS assets. Three – the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Epidemiologic Research and Information Centers based in Boston and Seattle and the Institute of Medicine's Medical Follow-Up Agency – were considered good candidates, but the committee could identify no superior candidate to recommend as the best choice. Other options, such as making the data available through the National Institutes of Health or conducting a competitive process to identify a custodian, could also work. However a custodian is selected, it must be given a secure source of funding to support proper maintenance of the assets, the report says.
To ensure that the rights of veterans who participated in AFHS are protected, the study's current managers should notify all participants prior to Sept. 30 that the study materials are being transferred to a new organization and offer participants the opportunity to decline the inclusion of their data and specimens. The organization that takes over managing the assets should appoint an independent oversight and advisory board to ensure that future studies using the materials are carried out in compliance with legal and ethical standards.
In addition to funding maintenance of the study's assets, Congress should allocate at least $250,000 annually for three years to foster research using the data and specimens, the report says. These funds should be in addition to money already earmarked for health research on veterans and should not be diverted from other studies. Five years after the data assets are put under new management, a committee should assess whether further support should be directed to maintaining access to the data collection.
The report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Institute of Medicine is a private, nonprofit institution that provides health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences. A committee roster follows.
A pre-publication version of Disposition of the Air Force Health Studyis available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).