Gore, Hatfield on Hand
By Rich McManus
On the Front Page...
Former Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), after whom the new Clinical Research Center will be named, was so thoroughly praised at a groundbreaking ceremony Nov. 4 that he said he had to pinch himself to be certain he wasn't attending his own final services. Joking at the outset of his remarks that "if all of this doesn't elicit a speech, I don't know what will," he concluded with an admonition to emcee Dr. Harold Varmus to "Hurry!" and build the new 250-bed hospital, the latest appendage on the 44-year-old Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center.
Vice President Al Gore was also among more than 500 guests and dignitaries at a tent erected on the CRC construction site across Center Dr. from Bldg. 10; he called NIH "a natural habitat hospitable to medical genius," and predicted breakthroughs in the coming century in such areas as breast cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's disease and human genetics. He left immediately after his remarks to speak at the funeral of a close friend who died of cancer, but said, "I will take with me the optimism that there are people living today who do not have to die of cancer, and people living today who do not have to get cancer...That is the promise of NIH." Amid a roar of motorcycle engines, his motorcade sped away.
Sen. Arlen Specter
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had to leave early too, but not for a funeral. He said he had to vote in the Senate and indicated that a chief concern was NIH's next budget. The inheritor of Hatfield's old office overlooking the Supreme Court, Specter said he thinks Congress can substantially increase NIH's budget allocation. He joshed with Varmus about making added money available to NIH, noting that only a bureaucratic obstacle -- the Office of Management and Budget -- stood in the way of a bigger appropriation.
"So what if [Varmus] gets in trouble [by bypassing OMB -- and the President -- to make a budget request directly from a senator], as long as he gets a bigger allocation for NIH," laughed Specter, himself a beneficiary of the sort of clinical research that will be conducted in the new CRC -- he has survived a benign meningioma. He paused for comic effect and added, "I will stop now and accept your applause."
Next on the hour-long agenda were testimonials by two CC patients who have benefited from research advances; they were introduced by CC director Dr. John Gallin after Varmus had declared that "research cannot proceed without the cooperation of our patients."
Cystic fibrosis patient Charles Tolchin, 29, of Bethesda, called the CRC "a living shrine to my heroes -- the NIH physicians who have demonstrated unfailing dedication, faith and infectious enthusiasm." An NIH patient since 1977, he catalogued a series of research advances that enabled him to survive in good enough shape to undergo a double-lung transplant last April. He said NIH nurses "defined compassion" and called its physicians "world class."
Breast cancer survivor Jane Reese-Coulbourne said the new hospital would be the site of some of the best, and worst, days of patients' lives. For the past 7 years, she has been cancer-free after undergoing "very aggressive" treatment in an NCI clinical trial.
Rep. John Porter
Picking up the budget banner, Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), who chairs the NIH appropriation subcommittee, called for "double-funding" NIH over the next 5 years. "Yes, it is possible," he declared, citing an improved economy and a significant drop in the federal deficit as factors in an anticipated budget surplus. "The debate has begun on what to do with the budgetary increase," he said, recommending investments in research that make NIH "the highest national priority."
Varmus credited the next speaker, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, with helping make the CRC a reality by defending the project against attackers who argued that clinical research would be better practiced elsewhere than in Bethesda, and by supporting a new hospital after thorough review proved old Bldg. 10 to be outmoded.
"The seeds we are planting...are about making tomorrow better than today," she said. The new CRC will include both "soft beds, and hard science" to achieve the healing of the human spirit. She called Hatfield "our own Moses, leading us to this mountain," and "the conscience of the Senate."
Hatfield, accompanied by his wife Antoinette and two of their daughters, compared pioneering scientific investigation to the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), currently the subject of an acclaimed series on public television. "Lewis and Clark undertook their expedition without maps or modern tools, but their curiosity and tenacity... changed the world as we knew it." The same spirit of conquest is alive at NIH, he said. "This new building represents the new frontier in medical science."
Sen. Mark O. Hatfield
He said the new CRC won't accomplish much in isolation, but will depend on partnerships -- "extensions of this building" -- nationwide in the form of General Clinical Research Centers, which are NIH-funded mini-Clinical Centers.
"Tell Congress that you have found a gene, and they're interested," he counseled. "But tell Congress that you've found a way to cure a genetic disease, and watch the budget grow."
Blue eyes blazing, he said he was proud to be associated with the hope placed in the Clinical Research Center: "We all have good reason for that hope."
Varmus concluded the ceremony, which had opened with playfully tossed spadefuls of soil outside the tent, by reading from a plaque that will adorn the structure once it is finished in 2001:
"The Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center stands as a symbol of excellence in patient care and clinical research. Senator Hatfield served in the United States Senate for 30 years and as chairman of the committee on appropriations for 8 years. His deep and abiding commitment to medical research throughout his years in Congress will be continued through this center, a place where research seeks cures and creates hope."
Sprawling CC Gets More Complex
The addition of the Clinical Research Center to the north face of Bldg. 10 is but the latest in a series of expansions that bid fair to make the "CC Complex" almost Pentagonesque in its scope. While it utterly abandons the symmetry of Defense Department headquarters, it makes up by veering off, almost anarchically, in all directions, including up and down (not even to mention the eternal restructuring within).
The CRC isn't even the first major bit of plastic surgery performed on the hospital's north face. Back in 1982, the Ambulatory Care Research Facility (ACRF) was completed amid fanfare, speeches, and, witnesses say, bitter public commentary by an architect who saw his artful form reduced -- by budget constraints -- to what many now refer to as the Giant Flash Cube. The really old-time NIH'ers remember when the front of the hospital featured a graceful driveway and the Pool of Bethesda gurgling pastorally out front.
To the east, the hospital grew an enhanced A-wing just a few years ago, largely to accommodate AIDS research. The glass-and-steel addition was built atop a low-rise A-wing, and resembled a poor rectangular cousin to the heftier ACRF.
Westward, the course of the department of transfusion medicine's empire grew, adding new square-footage just a few years ago that threatened to encroach on the grounds of the Cloister.
To the south, the In Vivo NMR Center branched out some 10 years ago; ever since, people have been wary of credit cards, watches and tooth fillings in the vicinity of its massive magnets. And, as we speak, a new South Entry is being formed so that people can get into the hospital while CRC construction occupies the old front door.
Let's talk about underground for a moment. Who remembers when the CC sprawled, subterraneanly, toward Bldg. 13 with addition of the Radiation Oncology Branch? Better yet, who can recall when massive PET cyclotrons were lowered into the Earth out front of the ACRF to help make the nuclear medicine department less dependent on outside sources for its short-lived isotopes? These expansions, though largely unseen, count in the 10 complex saga, too. Even today, the underground parking garages are getting a redo, and up on the roof, the CC arches skyward yet again as cranes place new air conditioning equipment on rooftops. There is not a compass point toward which the CC has not yearned since its dedication in 1953. Perhaps one day, it will advance on Battery Lane.
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