Before Sept. 11, bioterrorism was the stuff of suspense novels and Hollywood movies. Then the anthrax scares of early October made the threat of biologic agents as weapons very real. What lessons did we learn? What are we doing to prepare ourselves for possible future attacks?
These were the questions addressed during A Forum on Public Health and Bioterrorism Preparedness, a halfday event hosted in early April by the Mailman School of Public Health in conjunction with Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.
Bioterrorism is a particularly insidious weapon, said Rep. Lowey in her keynote address. The lesson we, as public servants, learned [from the anthrax outbreak] is that we have to expand public health capacity. Even in an isolated event [such as this one], our public health labs and, in many cases, our hospitals were overwhelmed.
Representatives from local, city, and state departments of health hit on a number of common concerns during the first panel discussion, Public Health Infrastructure: Responses to Bioterrorism, moderated by Dr. Kristine Gebbie, the Elizabeth Standish Gill Associate Professor of Nursing and director of the Center for Health Policy in the School of Nursing. For example, protocols need to be established for communication among public health workers and for the dissemination of information to the public.
According to Dr. Joshua Lipsman, commissioner of the Westchester County (N.Y.) Dept. of Health, effective communication helps diffuse the panic and keep things in perspective. Enhanced surveillanceincluding methods enabling public health officials to monitor and report unusual illnesses and clustersis also a major tool for tracking possible bioterrorist attacks. The need for increased fundingmostly to keep skilled staffs on site at all times, rather than just in emergencieswas also stressed.
Dr. Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the Mailman School, concluded the round of talks by weighing in on these issues and providing an overview of the center and the role it played on and after Sept. 11.
Dr. Allan Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, moderated the second series of talks, Looking Forward: Research Implications for Addressing Bioterrorism.
Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, professor of epidemiology and director of the Laboratory for Immunopathogenesis and Infectious Diseases and the Center for Developmental Neurosciences at Mailman, discussed current initiatives at the school's new Global Center for Infectious Disease. He also reiterated the need for increased disease surveillance at the global level.
Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH listed some of the research projects and initiatives under way at their agencies. Dr. Ezra Susser, professor and chairman of epidemiology at Mailman and head of epidemiology of brain disorders at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, urged health professionals not to ignore the mental ramifications bioterrorism can cause.
Dr. Marianne Legato, professor of clinical medicine and founder and director of the Partnership for Women's Health, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, associate professor of cardiac surgery and a Partnership scholar, were featured on a panel of experts during Women's Health 2002. The conference was co-sponsored by the National Council for Families and Television; Johnson & Johnson; and Lluminari, an organization of women's health experts engaged in organizing programs to advance knowledge and discussion of women's health issues. Dr. Legato discussed how women's health only has recently surfaced as an independent medical issue that takes into account gender differences in every system of a woman's body. Dr. Oz spoke about how each gender experiences heart disease differently.
Dr. Allan Formicola, former dean of the School of Dental and Oral Surgery, has accepted the position of vice dean for community health partnerships in the Health Sciences. In this new position, Dr. Formicola will oversee the Health Sciences Division's efforts to build alliances that will lead to improved access to health care for the underserved.
The Department of Surgery has established the Center for Innovative Cancer Management. Led by Dr. Howard L. Kaufman, associate professor of surgery and vice chairman of surgical oncology in the Department of Surgery, the center will conduct clinical studies of new biologic agents for various types of cancer and try to determine how vaccines recognize and destroy tumor cells. The research is expected to lead to more effective treatment of human cancers.
The Helen Hayes Hospital Foundation has received a grant from the United States Golf Association Foundation to develop a new program called GolfAbility. The objective of the program is to promote golf as a rewarding and satisfying leisure activity for patients and community members with disabilities. The grant provides funds for the construction of a putting green and netted tee areas, adaptive golf equipment, and adaptive workshops led by a golf pro. In addition, hospital staff will use GolfAbility as a therapeutic tool with appropriate patients, including individuals with cardiopulmonary and neuromuscular disorders, stroke, arthritis, and other disabilities.
Dr. Steve Heymsfield, professor of medicine, was awarded the Rhoads Lecture award from the American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. The title of his lecture was Heat and Life: The Ongoing Scientific Odyssey. The Rhoads Lecture is the highest and most prestigious of the society's annual awards. The lecturer is a person who is recognized internationally for major contributions to the field of specialized nutrition and who has demonstrated a career-long commitment to the improvement of the nutritional status of patients.
Dr. Serge Przedborski, associate professor of neurology at P&S, has been selected by the American Academy of Neurology to receive the 2002 Sheila Essey Award for his research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). Dr. Przedborski has been a pioneer in the investigation of the molecular mechanisms leading to the death of neurons that occurs in ALS and Parkinson's disease. The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) presented the $25,000 award to Dr. Przedborski at its annual meeting earlier this month. The AAN presents the award to researchers who have made significant strides in the search for the cause, treatment, prevention, and cure for ALS.
The Research Administration and Grants & Contracts offices have moved from their second-floor space in P&S to the fourth floor of the Mailman School of Public Health, the former New York State Psychiatric Institute building. The Office of Development for Health Sciences will move from its location at 100 Haven Avenue into the former research administration and grants & contracts space.
Ayana Morales, a Stuyvesant High School student who participated in the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center's 2001 Continuing Umbrella of Research Experience (CURE) program, is one of this year's New York Times Scholars. As a Times Scholar, Ms. Morales will receive $7,500 a year in college tuition for four years, along with a free computer, a $500-a-week summer job at the newspaper, and a mentor from the staff of the Times.
Ms. Morales was mentored this past summer by Dr. Howard Lieberman, associate professor of radiation oncology, on a research project titled The Isolation & Characterization of an Alternative Human RAD9 Gene. She has been accepted to Columbia, Cornell, and the eight-year college medical programs at both Brown University and Boston University, all on full tuition scholarships.
The CURE program is a national program developed by the NIH and administered at Columbia as a joint project of the Cancer Center and the Office of Minority and Cultural Affairs. The Columbia CURE Program places 10 talented New York City minority high school students and four minority college students, as paid interns during the summer, in the laboratories of Cancer Center faculty members, all of whom are principal investigators actively involved in cancer research.