Amy Justice, MD, PhD, C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine (General Medicine) at Yale School of Medicine and professor of public health (health policy) at Yale School of Public Health was recently honored with the William S. Middleton Award (Middleton Award).
The Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development (BLR&D) Service established the Middleton Award in 1960 as the highest honor for outstanding contributions in biomedical and behavioral research. It is awarded annually to senior investigators at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recognize research accomplishments relevant to the healthcare of veterans.
Justice has devoted the last two decades of her career to developing large national cohorts based on data from the VA Healthcare System’s electronic medical record, a longitudinal paperless health record that goes back more than 20 years. She is the principal investigator on the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS), which compares outcomes among veterans aging with and without HIV infection. Her understanding of the electronic record system has also enabled her to conduct instrumental research on HIV-associated cancers, substance use, and Covid-19.
“The paperless health record is an incredible resource for trying to understand what drives outcomes for people who are aging,” said Justice. “Veterans come into the system after they retire from active duty - usually when they are in their late 20s or early 30s. Then they tend to stay in the VA for the rest of their lives. So it is a very rich database, and I have spent my career working on that, figuring out how to make sense of the data, how to bring it together, how to analyze it, and how to interpret it.”
Justice’s work has been critical in furthering the Million Veteran Program (MVP) and a VA collaboration with the Department of Energy (DOE) applying artificial intelligence and high performance computing. These are closely collaborating, nationwide research programs that investigate the impact of genes, lifestyle, and military exposures on health and illness. She serves as the National Scientific Liaison for the VA-DOE collaboration and is a principal investigator on an MVP grant studying the genetics of multi-substance use and pain.
The Middleton Award review committee evaluates nominees and presents its recommendation to the director of BLR&D Service for consideration. The recommendation is based on the significance of the nominee’s contributions to the advancement of knowledge aligned with VA’s research portfolio, as well as the originality of the research, evidence of real-world impact, and high-quality service and leadership to VA at the local and national level.
“Being recognized by the VA is very meaningful. I have tried to build a career that has not only allowed me to do my own research, but has helped enable other people to do important research. That is what this award is recognizing, and I appreciate that,” said Justice.
Justice will receive a personal cash award and an inscribed plaque to commemorate her scientific achievements, as well as $50,000 of additional research support per year for three years. She plans to use this funding to assist junior researchers at the VA. “Frequently junior investigators are willing to work very hard but don’t have a lot of funding to support their time. It’s nice to have those extra dollars to be able to facilitate work by those who maybe don’t have as many resources themselves,” said Justice.
In addition to redirecting funds to support future generations of scientists, Justice is also committed to teaching and mentoring younger VA researchers. “I want to make sure that when I retire, everything doesn’t come to a grinding halt,” she said. “I am training people so that they are able to take it to the next level, and in a way that is relevant to the kind of work they want to do. Now is the time to make sure other people have this knowledge and can extend it beyond me. I am essentially trying to create my own obsolescence.”