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(Dr. Varmus, Sen. Hatfield)(photo, Fran Pollner) 

Future . . .

In the foreground, NIH director Harold Varmus (left) converses with Sen. Mark Hatfield, for whom the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center is named. In the background, architect Bob Frasca (left) chats with Clinical Center director John Gallin. Behind and above them all is a drawing of the new CRC, expected to be completed in 2002. A few minutes earlier, as the speech-making inside a very large adjacent tent was coming to an end, Varmus read the plaque that will grace the new facility and that recognizes Senator Hatfield for "his deep and abiding commitment to medical research throughout his years in Congress," where he served in the Senate for 30 years and chaired the appropriations committee for eight before retiring at the end of the last session. Alluding to his own mortality, the senator asked only that the NIH director and everyone else involved in bringing the new CRC to life "please hurry." The assemblage then stepped lively out of the tent to the groundbreaking as the Walt Whitman High School Jazz Ensemble set the pace.

. . . And Past

Among the archival slides NCI's Alan Rabson displayed during his talk at the NIH Research Festival restrospective was this one on the right of the first patient admitted to the Clinical Center: On July 6, 1953, Charles Meredith (seated), a 67-year-old farmer with prostate cancer, passed through the new CC portals to be placed on a hormone therapy protocol by his physician, NCI's Roy Hertz (second from right). Also on hand (left to right) were Clinical Center nurses Nadine Luxmore and Elizabeth Walker, NCI scientific director Bo Mider, and NCI director Rod Heller. Nurses in the fifties, Rabson noted in his talk, were essentially nameless but would not be at the new Clinical Research Center or anywhere else, thanks to the work of nurses like NINR's director Pat Grady and new scientific director Annette Wysocki.



very single day is groundbreaking day at NIH," Vice President Al Gore declared to the assemblage of lawmakers, scientists, and well-wishers gathered within the tent pitched opposite the main entrance of the "original" NIH Clinical Center.

The official groundbreaking ceremony for the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center took place November 4 on a beautiful, breezy fall morning, ablaze in red and gold leaves.

(S. Ficca, T. Clifford, M. Gottesman - groundbreaking)(photo, Fran Pollner) 

Digging In: (left to right) Steve Ficca, director of the Office of Research Services, Tony Clifford, director of the Office of Engineering Services, and Michael Gottesman, deputy director for Intramural Research, put their shoulders to the shovels at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center.

"The Clinical Research Center will play host to some of the great medical breakthroughs of the 21st century," Gore predicted. His was the first in a series of addresses by political figures, including HHS secretary Donna Shalala, whose efforts on behalf of biomedical research had contributed to the occasion of the day. Shortly after coming to office, the vice president had launched his "reinventing government" agenda and designated NIH's research apparatus a "reinvention laboratory." The new CRC could be considered the centerpiece of that effort.

But not without the money from Congress to do it. Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) and Rep. John Porter (R.-Ill.), who vowed to remain partisan to NIH, took their places at the podium, as, of course, did Sen. Mark Hatfield (R.-Oreg.), who urged that greater efforts be made to train clinical researchers, especially in light of the "discouragement" they face these days. Hatfield also underscored the need to enhance support for the NIH-funded General Clinical Research Centers across the country "to translate basic science to the bedside."

Clinical Center Director John Gallin pointed to the core of clinical research at NIH - the patients. Two Clinical Center patients paid tribute to the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists - and the science - that have kept them alive and well in the face of their deadly diseases, cystic fibrosis and breast cancer.

Charles Tolchin, a 29-year-old man with cystic fibrosis diagnosed at age 5 at a time when life expectancy was age 8, listed advances that had allowed him to reach adulthood and to feel strong as he spoke that day, and he thanked NIH for them - the diagnostic sweat test he took at age 5, the anti-inflammatory medications and nebulized antibiotics he needs, the self-operated flutter device he blows into to get rid of secretions, and the double-lung transplant he had last April (at the University of North Carolina) that has eliminated his cough and his need for protracted daily respiratory therapy.

He remarked, too, that NIH had funded the research that isolated the cystic fibrosis gene, "and now NIH is looking for a [gene] delivery system," he added.

Jane Reese-Coulbourne, came to the Clinical Center at the age of 36 after she'd been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. "I was told I would not likely see 40. I wanted the most aggressive therapy I could find, and I came to NIH on protocol. 'Your cancer appears to be gone' - they've been telling me that now for the last seven years," she recounted.

"We need more patients in clinical trials on experimental therapies," she concluded.

-- Fran Pollner

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