Contract Establishes First U.S. AIDS Research and Treatment Center
HOUSTON (AP) _ The nation’s first hospital dedicated solely to research and treatment of AIDS was created Tuesday and officials said it should advance the search for a drug to combat the dreaded disease.
Officials of American Medical International Inc. signed an agreement Tuesday with the University of Texas to set up the hospital, to be known as the Institute for Immunological Disorders.
″What we’re embarking on here is an exciting journey into the unknown,″ said Roger Bulger, president of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Under the agreement, American Medical International is providing the hospital, management and staff of 100 to 150 people, while the University of Texas System supplies faculty staffing and direction.
The 150-bed Citizens General Hospital is being converted from a general care facility to a research and treatment center for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The first AIDS patients will be accepted Sept. 2.
″We want to provide the type of environment that will allow the medical people and researchers to affect significant strides in fighting this particular immunological disease,″ said Richard R. D’Antoni, group vice president of American Medical International.
″We’re anticipating scientifically exciting breakthroughs,″ added Charles Mullins, executive vice chancellor of the University of Texas System.
″A year from now, I’d like to be in a position of developing an anti-viral drug,″ said Peter Mansell, medical director of the new center. ″Then I’d like to start looking at synthesizing drugs. The opportunities this facility offers for advancement in AIDS research, diagnosis and treatment are almost limitless.″
As of July 21, AIDS had struck 22,815 in the United States and killed 12,530 of them, according to the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The number of victims is expected to double again by the end of next year, Mansell said.
″Treating AIDS is like trying to fill up a bucket with a hole in it,″ he said. ″Until we can plug up the hole, it’s not going to work.″
Mansell, who will direct an initial research team of seven, is professor of medicine in the Department of Clinical Immunology and Biological Therapy at the University of Texas Cancer Center. He also has worked at an AIDS Treatment and Evaluation Unit at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Hospital, which this week treated its 1,000th AIDS patient, he said.
In San Francisco, where in 1983 the city’s Department of Public Health opened the first ward exclusively for AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital, spokesman Paul Varnes said the opening of a new center certainly will help.
″It will open more opportunities to treat AIDS patients,″ he said. ″Drug trials will take place that also will benefit. Occasionally a drug comes up for experimentation that is not available to the public and is used in AIDS patients.″
But Benjamin Schatz, director of the AIDS Civil Rights Project of the National Gay Rights Advocates, had mixed feelings about the Houston center.
″It is important for AIDS to get more attention,″ he said. ″But there wouldn’t be a need for facilities of this nature if the federal government was taking care of the problems instead of relying on the private sector.″
About 20 percent of the existing staff sought transfers when it became known the facility would exclusively handle AIDS patients, but most of those left because the obstetrics department was being eliminated, not because of fear of AIDS, said Sherry Belanger, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
″So far, we’ve had no patient inquiries but a lot of inquiries from people who want to work here,″ Mansell said. ″I’m encouraged.″
AIDS is most often transmitted through sexual contact. Other means of transmission include transfusions of infected blood or blood products, and the sharing of infected hypodermic needles by drug abusers. AIDS can also be passed from mother to child at or before birth.