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CARD given grant for X-ray tests

| June 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Libby's Center for Asbestos Related Disease has been awarded a federal contract to test the effectiveness of digital X-rays in diagnosing and treating people exposed to asbestos fibers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide the CARD clinic with $10,000 per month for 18 months to work with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on the study. Experts will compare digital and film X-rays of CARD patients to determine whether the digital images are consistent and reliable enough for research use.

While digital X-rays are already in general use at the CARD clinic and elsewhere, the technology remains relatively new and continues to improve, said the clinic's Dr. Brad Black. Federal standards currently require film X-rays for general research, he said.

Preliminary, small-scale studies involving 30 to 40 patients have indicated that digital X-rays should be acceptable, but the CARD-ATSDR study will be much larger, involving 250 to 300 patients, Black said.

"It's a valuable project," he said. "It can answer a lot of questions for people around the country — not just Libby."

Use of digital X-ray technology could speed research along while cutting costs, Black said.

"It would facilitate the transfer of images very quickly and with very good quality," he said.

In March, HHS secretary Mike Leavitt traveled to Libby with U.S. Sen. Max Baucus for a meeting with area residents on healthcare and research issues. Baucus urged Leavitt to help Libby residents and the CARD clinic.

"It's critical that we do all we can to help the people of Libby," Baucus said last week in announcing the federal contract with the clinic. "We also need to learn what we can from their tragedy so that it won't be repeated. This research collaboration is good news on all counts. It's good for the CARD clinic, good for the people of Libby, and good for all of us to develop new ways of treating asbestos-related diseases."

In addition to promising support for the community, Leavitt committed to sending Dr. David Schwartz — director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, a research division of HHS — to Libby in mid-August.

The ATSDR is also under HHS and among other things performs health consultations concerning specific hazardous substances, conducts health surveillance and registries, responds to emergency releases of hazardous substances, and educates communities concerning hazardous materials.