United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care - Veterans Health Administration

Dr. William Cushman Receives Top VA Award for Research to Help Veterans

Male doctor sits with female patient, taking blood pressure.
Dr. Willliam Cushman takes the blood pressure of Marvia Balfour, Nurse Manager for Cardiology at the Memphis VA Medical Center.

Dr. William Cushman is a priest, a medical researcher and the father of a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan.

He is also the recipient of one of the VA's highest awards, an award that acknowledges the remarkable research he is doing to help Veterans stay healthy.

If you're a Veteran and you remember your blood pressure numbers from your last physical, Dr. Cushman is dedicated to helping you stay healthy by keeping those numbers in a safe range.

At ceremonies marking Research Week, Dr. Cushman received the Barnwell Award which is given for outstanding scientific achievements in clinical research that advance the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders in the veteran population. It's the Clinical Science Research and Development's highest honor for scientific achievement.

William Cushman is Chief of the Preventive Medicine Section at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Memphis. He is also Professor of Preventive Medicine, Medicine, and Physiology at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis.

A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Dr. Cushman, married 40 years, is a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the proud father of three, the oldest, Jon, an Army helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. "His current tour is over in November. It's his third tour. There were two previous tours in Iraq. Of course, I'll be happy when he's home."

Obviously, his interest in keeping Veterans healthy is personal.

In addition to being the Lead Hypertension Consultant to Medical Service for the VA, he is on the Executive Committee that wrote the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute National Committee Report on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of Hypertension.

He has been an investigator in many clinical studies relating to hypertension and cardiovascular disease prevention.

He was Chairman for PATHS (Prevention and Treatment of Hypertension Study), a VA Cooperative Study (multicenter clinical trial) examining the effects of reducing alcohol intake on blood pressure in heavy drinkers.

Dr. Cushman is Principal Investigator for the VA Clinical Center Network and Chair of the Blood Pressure Working Group of the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes trial (ACCORD) trial conducted from 2000 through 2010.

The ACCORD trial found that intensive blood pressure and combination lipid therapies do not reduce combined cardiovascular events in adults with diabetes.

ACCORD is one of the largest studies ever conducted in adults with type 2 diabetes who were at especially high risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease.

The trial tested three potential strategies to lower the risk of major cardiovascular events: intensive control of blood sugar, intensive control of blood pressure, and treatment of multiple blood lipids. The results of the ACCORD Blood Pressure and Lipid Trials were published in the April 29, 2010, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Male priest in robes offers bible for young girl to kiss in church.
"Father Basil" Cushman greeting a young parishioner with "Christ is Risen" at the end of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, holding the Easter Candle and Gospel Book.

ACCORD researchers from 77 medical centers in the United States and Canada studied 10,251 participants between the ages of 40 and 79 who had type 2 diabetes for an average of 10 years.

When they joined the study, all participants were at especially high risk of cardiovascular events because they had pre-existing cardiovascular disease, evidence of subclinical cardiovascular disease, or at least two cardiovascular disease risk factors in addition to diabetes.

"Our results provide no conclusive evidence that targeting a normal systolic blood pressure (less than 120 mm Hg) compared with targeting a systolic blood pressure of less than 140 mm Hg lowers the overall risk of major cardiovascular events in high risk adults with type 2 diabetes," according to Dr. Cushman, lead author.

"However, the study suggests that lower blood pressure levels in patients like those in ACCORD may reduce the risk of stroke. This finding is consistent with other blood pressure trials."

An estimated 24 million Americans have diabetes, which is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Adults with type 2 diabetes are two to four times more likely than adults without diabetes to die from heart disease, and 65 percent of deaths in people with diabetes are from cardiovascular causes.

Dr. Cushman is also leading a clinical network of more than 20 VA centers in the United States, including the Memphis VA Medical Center, in the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT).

The National Institutes of Health awarded a $15M grant to Dr. Cushman for SPRINT as part of a total $114 million dollar, nine year-long, randomized, multi-center clinical trial.

The study will test the effects of intensive lowering of systolic blood pressure (SBP) on preventing cardiovascular disease in a population of 7,500 participants aged 55 years and older, without a history of diabetes, who have or are at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

For eight and a half decades, VA Research has helped not only those who served in our Nation's armed forces: it has yielded vital breakthroughs that have benefited all Americans, Veterans and non-Veterans alike.

From effective therapies for tuberculosis, to implantable cardiac pacemakers, to the first successful liver transplants, to the development of the nicotine patch, and beyond, VA's legacy of trailblazing accomplishments is a source of great pride.

For more information: www.research.va.gov/researchweek