U.S. Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders visited County-USC Medical Center last week to celebrate the opening of a research center that she said will help future clinical studies include more women and minorities, groups that have been neglected or underrepresented.
“The opening of this center is very important not only for this city and this county, but for this country to train young people in research that will help develop the treatments of the future,” Elders said before cutting the ribbon to the new ward Tuesday.
General Hospital’s new General Clinical Research Center will continue the hospital’s research efforts of the last 30 years, but is now a designated ward which will help researchers have more control over their studies.
Funded by a $2-million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the 14-bed facility will explore treatments for AIDS, diabetes, other metabolic disorders and gene therapy. The center also has an outpatient service, laboratories, nutrition service and a computer center to track research data.
Elders stressed the importance of getting more new drugs on the market as quickly as possible to help fight HIV, AIDS and other diseases.
The new center is just feet away from the hospital’s AIDS ward, which will enable researchers to more closely study drugs used in the treatment of the disease, said lab director Carole Spencer.
County-USC researchers alone examine 28,000 blood specimens and 3,000 urine samples a year to track the changes in response to new drugs, Spencer said. “That’s why we need the center,” she said. “We can’t do that sort of thing in the rest of the hospital because it has to be controlled.”
Patients in clinical studies must be put on a strict diet so researchers can gauge how different foods affect patients’ reactions to medicines. Even the meals must be studied to determine how much sodium, for example, is being consumed by a patient; so for every meal a patient eats, the kitchen cooks an identical meal for the lab to study.
Even after medicines have been proven to be effective in laboratory studies, clinical trials must be conducted before they can be given to the public. The National Institutes of Health has established 74 specially designed clinical research centers--including the center at County-USC--in teaching hospitals and universities nationwide.
Elders said that research centers have become a more vital part of medicine as health care has changed over the years. No longer are hospitals the main source of medical care, she said, because technology and payment policies have allowed services to be provided in community clinics and as part of in-home care.
“There is no question that in order to meet the future demands of a reformed health-care system, primary care must play a central role in correcting the existing inequities in access to health care and also in improving the health of all Americans,” Elders said.
“Today, there is a significant gap between the importance of these crucial services and the research under way that is designed to improve the practice and organization of primary care.
“The work you are doing here at the Clinical Research Center now and in the future will serve to close this gap.”