There was little if any dramatic footage of storm
and flood damage to research facilities after Hurricane Katrina.
Everyone was rightly concerned with addressing emergency and immediate
needs. Now, though, as clean-up and recovery continue, stories
about losses to science and NIH-funded research interests in the
Gulf area are beginning to emerge. Although physical damage to
buildings and other structures was less than at first feared, affected-area
research projects in general and the requirements for conducting
them suffered a tremendous hit.
"We are not asking for charity," said NIH grantee Dr. Seth Pincus,
via email, "but those of us with NIH funding know how competitive
the process of obtaining NIH support is, and that it looks to be
even worse in the years ahead. Realistically, given the hurdles
we face, it will be extraordinarily difficult to remain competitive.
Although I would hardly call New Orleans a research powerhouse,
the support provided by NIH plays an important role in the local
economy, and this will be important in the city's recovery."
Pincus, director of the Research Institute for Children at Children's
Hospital, professor and vice chair of the department of pediatrics
and professor in the department of microbiology at Louisiana State
University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, has been conducting
research funded in the last decade by NCI and is currently principal
investigator on two NIAID grants.
New vs. Old Response to Disaster
Back on 9/11, a disaster medical assistance team (PHS-1
DMAT comprised mostly of PHS Commissioned Corps officers)
headed by NIH's Capt. Van Hubbard helped provide medical
support for workers at Ground Zero in New York City. The
team, a part of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS),
was trained, outfitted and ready to go within hours of the
attacks on the World Trade Center. Forty-five members of
the team (including a number of NIH PHS commissioned officers
and civilian staff) spent nearly 2 weeks at the World Trade
Center site and additional members served in other capacities.
There have been many changes that have taken place in preparing
for disaster response since 9/11. Today, the Office of Force
Readiness and Deployment manages the PHS commissioned corps
response at the request of the Secretary of HHS. Thus, although
the PHS-1 DMAT did not respond as a team, the overall corps
response to Katrina has been intact with many of our team
members providing leadership roles, Hubbard said. However,
the needs identified in the aftermath of recent hurricanes
has raised the question of whether a PHS team with supplies
and equipment to be self-sufficient for 72 hours would be
a beneficial addition to the current response capabilities.
Pincus also pointed out that "unique reagents necessary for research
projects have been lost, many irretrievably. For my own grant-funded
research, I have fewer tools with which to work than when I applied
for the grants. I imagine it will take up to a year of work to
reconstitute many of these materials. Some will never be able to
be replaced (unique monoclonal antibodies, etc.). And we are much
better off than many, since we were able to store some samples
in liquid nitrogen and fill the dewars before we evacuated. Similarly,
animal colonies have been lost."
Compounding efforts to get labs up and running again will be the
loss of skilled staff, he said. "Many people have already decided
not to return to New Orleans," Pincus noted. "For example, 2 of
my technicians (out of a total lab of 5) have already indicated
that since they lost everything and have to start over from scratch,
they aren't planning on coming back to New Orleans. The others
are up in the air. It will be the most skilled and talented who
are able to find jobs elsewhere. Ironically, finding host labs
will accelerate this process, since people will settle in new cities
and be more likely to be offered jobs there. A similar process
is happening already among faculty (as I contemplate the future,
the idea of leaving has certainly crossed my own mind). And where
will we recruit skilled personnel to replace those who leave?"
The Tulane National Primate Research Center, located in Covington,
La., about 42 miles north of New Orleans and just north of Lake
Pontchartrain, reported that its personnel and animals survived
Hurricane Katrina without injuries.
Although many trees were downed in the storm and there was some damage
to structures, the animal facility remained intact and the center
has an ample supply of food for the animals. Funded by the National
Center for Research Resources, the primate center supports NIH extramural
investigators conducting gene therapy research and studies of infectious
diseases, including AIDS, Lyme disease, microsporidiosis and malaria.
'Team Gumby' Learns to Be Flexible
By Rich McManus
If disasters have one lesson to teach responders, it's
that you better keep your improvisational chops honed and
your bags packed.
Charles McGarvey, a Clinical Center physical therapist who
was part of a 38-person PHS team dispatched to Baton Rouge,
got a call from Admiral John Babb the day before Hurricane
Katrina hit New Orleans.
"Do you have your bags packed?" asked the admiral in a Sunday
morning phone call. By 5 p.m., McGarvey was at a special
tarmac at Dulles Airport, boarding a jet to Jackson, Miss.
Team Alpha was originally scheduled to fly into Meridian,
Miss., then go to the Superdome in New Orleans. But in the
space of a few hours, they were redirected to Jackson, where
their mission was "field hospital augmentation."
Jackson turned out to be a mere layover, a place to rent
18 minivans at midnight for the drive further south to Baton
Rouge, where the team reported to the Pete Maravich Assembly
Center (PMAC), a basketball arena on the campus of Louisiana
Team Alpha helped the Louisiana state health department
erect a 200-bed field hospital on the gym floor. Laboring
alongside LSU undergrads, town volunteers and trained responders
from Illinois and New Mexico, the PHS team had a full-fledged
pharmacy up in only 4 hours, and organized a small hospital
on the fly.
"Things would change before you could complete a sentence," said
PHS officer Dr. Sarah Linde-Feucht of FDA, a family physician
on Team Alpha. "It was a pretty taxing experience...we learned
that personality is sometimes more important than skills."
With help from the NIH Office of Research Facilities, NCRR staff
located, purchased and shipped a large generator to the center.
NCRR also organized emergency shipments of fuel from multiple sources
to power the generator, providing lighting and necessary air circulation
in the animal facility. Tulane staff have also indicated they will
need to replace nine animal corrals and some fencing destroyed
by the hurricane, at an estimated cost of nearly $2 million.
NIEHS's Capt. Bill Stokes, chief veterinary officer for PHS, is
heading a team of PHS veterinarians assisting with zoonotic public
health issues in Louisiana. Team members are assisting with carcass
disposal at biomedical facilities and are treating thousands of
rescued animals. As a precaution against outbreaks of zoonotic
diseases, the team is vaccinating and treating rescued animals
as they are brought to shelters, said NIEHS.
The Squirrel Monkey Breeding and Research Resource, supported
by NCRR at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, and Chimp
Haven — a sanctuary for chimpanzees no longer needed in research — near
Shreveport, La., survived the storm without injuries or major damage,
according to reports days after the storm.
According to a Sept. 8 email sent on behalf of Dr. Chip Price,
president of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science,
a group of volunteers from the association's Texas branch, from
LSU's main campus and from Tulane University's animal care staff
made their way through to Tulane's main campus and "found many
animals alive. [The volunteers] removed 175 boxes of transgenic
mice and 5 boxes from this facility to the Tulane Primate Center.
Rest of animals euthanized. Staff all accounted for; some may have
lost homes. No report yet as to when campus will reopen."
"Even those scientists who have immediately found temporary labs
to work in face months when no real work will be done in labs," Pincus
explained. "We have personal lives to get back together, closed
and damaged buildings, etc.
Our institute was undamaged, so we can get going almost immediately
when New Orleans becomes habitable. But I still estimate that there
will be a 3- to 4-month loss of work time, even for those already
in other labs."
'NEI Grantee Helps Hurricane Evacuees
Oklahoma's Northeastern State University College of Optometry — recipient
of an NEI grant to conduct vision screenings for children
as part of the Vision in Preschoolers (VIP) Study, a multicenter
clinical trial — has been providing eye exams and eyeglasses
to evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.
The college sent the VIP study van and a team of 40 to 50 volunteers
to Camp Gruber in Braggs, Okla., where 1,600 Katrina evacuees
had arrived from the Superdome in New Orleans. Camp Gruber,
originally a World War II military base, is now a National
Guard training center.
||Dr. George Foster, dean of
Oklahoma's Northeastern State University College of Optometry,
examines a Katrina evacuee's eyes.
The van team, consisting of doctors, students and technicians,
conducted more than 300 comprehensive eye exams, at a rate
of about 80 per day, according to Dr. George Foster, dean
of the College of Optometry. In addition, the team has provided
over 270 pairs of eyeglasses, worth about $45,000, thanks
to optical companies that have donated frames and lenses.
"It has been very gratifying to be able to help these people
who have lost so much," Foster said. "In most cases, they
had no prescriptions for eyeglasses and just had the clothes
they were wearing. Some were legally blind without glasses.
Now, they are finding places to live. We are blessed to have
the van, and will continue to provide eye health care a day
or two a week until the need has been met."
As the Record went to press, Pincus reported that he
and his associates were "planning to reopen on Oct. 1, barring
more problems from [Hurricane] Rita."
Another NIH'er on the team, social worker Jeasmine Aizvera, noted
that the responders themselves, not to mention evacuees, were often
in need of mental health counseling.
Six members of Team Alpha told their stories at a Lipsett Amphitheater
debriefing on Sept. 19. The crux of their reports — and the
reason they dubbed themselves "Team Gumby" — is that, in
an emergency, you do what the situation requires, not what your
The PMAC team triaged 15,000 patients before closing on Sept.
7. Six thousand patients were admitted in 9 days. "About 2,000
patients arrived each day, by helicopter, ambulance and bus," said
Linde-Feucht. A nearby field house was also pressed into service
as a temporary hospital.
NIDDK's Dr. Jeffrey Kopp, a kidney specialist and commissioned
officer, also spoke at the Sept. 19 debriefing. Since Louisiana
is deep within the "kidney disease belt," an epidemiological pocket
known for its high incidence of ESRD (end-stage renal disease),
he and colleagues rapidly evaluated how many hospitals were left
standing to accommodate patients needing dialysis.
Some 45 dialysis clinics serving more than 2,400 patients had
been shut down by the hurricane, he reported. Fifty evacuees per
day were in need of dialysis.
Flying by helicopter around the Crescent City metro area over
the course of 3 days, Kopp visited 34 hospitals and obtained information
on four more. His census showed 26 of them open, and a dozen shuttered. "We
were not there to take charge," he explained, "but to augment."
Team Alpha returned to their respective HHS agencies on Sept.
9. In the aftermath of their deployment, they have assembled a
host of lessons, chief among them: "Flexibility required due to
constant evolution of mission."