Infectious Disease Center Opens

November 1, 1999

Judith Zwolak

Since 1834, when seven physicians founded the institution that eventually became Tulane University to combat tropical diseases that plagued New Orleans, the university has worked to eradicate infectious diseases ranging from AIDS to tuberculosis.

On Dec. 1, 1999, World AIDS Day, Tulane's medical center expanded on this tradition by inaugurating its Center for Infectious Diseases. A $2.1-million grant from medical center chancellor John LaRosa's office created the center, which encompasses basic research and clinical and public health initiatives at Tulane's School of Medicine, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the Tulane Regional Primate Research Center.

"What makes this center unique is that it takes advantage of all three of the medical centers major units," LaRosa said. "Problems related to infectious diseases will continue to be serious medical and public health issues and must be at the forefront of our research centers of academic excellence."

The center's director is Donald Krogstad, William Henderson Professor of Tropical Medicine and department chair, who has spent more than two decades researching malaria in the lab and the field. Krogstad said the center builds on Tulane's significant amount of activities focusing on infectious diseases. Infectious disease-related research accounts for 23 percent of the medical centers extramural funding, which is a huge fraction, he said.

A driving force for forming the center is based on whats already here in terms of people. The center has a critical mass of expertise that includes not only basic science, but also clinical expertise as well as expertise in going out in the community and being involved in public health.

To underscore the importance of work on infectious diseases, the center's dedication ceremony included comments from Russell Van Dyke, director of the Tulane-Louisiana State University Pediatric AIDS Clinical Trials Unit. Van Dyke described how work at his unit contributed to a better understanding of how infants become infected with HIV while in their mothers' wombs and how transmission is reduced through the use of drug therapy.

We now have the means to reduce the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by two-thirds by the administration of the drug AZT, Van Dyke said. He added that the New Orleans pediatric unit has seen only one infant born with HIV this year. In 1995, 16 children were born infected with the virus in the Greater New Orleans area. AIDS is a focus area of the center, Krogstad says, and builds on the work at both the Pediatric and Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Units run by Tulane and LSU.

In addition to AIDS, other infectious diseases currently studied at Tulane include tuberculosis, Lyme disease, malaria, microsporidiosis, mosquito-transmitted encephalitis, dengue fever, cholera and other diarrheal diseases and bacterial infections. Moving laboratory discoveries concerning these diseases into the clinic and community is called translational research, Krogstad said. The primate center plays an important role in this area.

The primate center is an incredibly important resource in that we can frequently obtain data from studies of non-human primates that will greatly strengthen the case for human studies, he said. The center researchers can also carry out human clinical trials at the General Clinical Research Center at Charity Hospital, a joint Tulane and LSU program.

In addition to basic and translational research that may lead to the development of drugs, vaccines and other interventions, the center will focus on clinical activities. Examples are a travel medicine clinic for people traveling overseas and a clinic that focuses on opportunistic infections associated with cancer chemotherapy and transplantation surgery.

In the area of community-related public health efforts, Krogstad said promoting immunizations will be a primary goal, overseas and locally. One of our goals is to have every politician convinced that the ultimate photo op is being photographed next to a child getting a shot, he said. If we succeed with that, it will transform the way people fund and supply immunization clinics.

At the dedication ceremony, Tulane also honored Margaret Smith, professor emeritus of pediatrics, for her lifelong contributions to research in pediatric infectious diseases. Smith recalled her work in the Charity Hospital wards over the past five decades. We dealt with diphtheria, whooping cough and polio, and we took care of our patients the best way we could, Smith said. Now, Im happy to see the emphasis is on preventing disease. That's a turnaround from the point of view in the past.

LaRosa agreed with Smith's observation. Well never be at a place where well cure all infectious diseases, he said. But we can make great strides in preventing them. (Inside Tulane, 1/01/99)

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