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Research proposal looming large

| July 9, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

A proposal to expand Libby¹s Center for Asbestos-Related Disease into a clinical research facility is gaining support in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

³It¹s hit the radar screen in the academic world and the government agencies,² said CARD medical director Dr. Brad Black.

Black traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to discuss the proposal with Montana¹s congressional delegation and representatives of a variety of federal agencies. Also taking part in the trip were CARD nurse coordinator Pat Cohan, pulmonologist Dr. Alan Whitehouse, consultant Bob Munson, Missoula-based researchers Liz Putnam and Andrij Holian, and occupational disease specialist Dr. James Lockey from the University of Cincinnati.

The group encountered ³exceedingly high² interest in the project, Black said.

³I saw that it had potential,² but this is even bigger than I expected,² he said.

The proposal calls for the development of a new model for a rural research center. While research centers are typically associated with an academic institution, Libby¹s isolation calls for a new approach, Black said.

Plans are for the CARD clinic to continue providing medical care for patients with asbestos-related disease while serving as a focal point for research. The Libby research center would organize and maintain demographic and medical information and encourage investigators to submit research proposals. The center would grow as research projects are undertaken.

The National Cancer Institute — part of the National Institutes of Health system — has already shown interest in being involved, Black said.

The center would be based on partnerships combining public funding with private resources, such as from charitable foundations and companies working in genetic research, Black said. The consensus arising from discussions with federal officials was that the project should receive supplemental funding from Congress rather than tapping into existing agency budgets, Black said.

In two days, the research center proponents met with Sen. Conrad Burns and Sen. Max Baucus, Rep. Denny Rehberg, Environmental Protection Agency Superfund program director Mike Cook, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry director Dr. Henry Faulk, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health head Dr. John Howard, and representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Stephen Levin of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, director of a medical screening program for workers and volunteers at the World Trade Center and a member of the committee developing the Libby research center proposal, traveled from New York to offer support during a meeting with Baucus and EPA and HHS representatives.

The meetings were overwhelmingly positive, and ³commitments were on the table,² Black said.

³The agencies seemed as exuberant as we were about what¹s going on and how the meetings went,² he said.