Major General James Gilman, M.D., CEO of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center, shared an overview of the hospital he called the House of Hope, during a talk at NIEHS June 21.
Gilman, who stepped into his role just 18 months ago, spoke during an Office of the Director seminar, hosted by NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. His visit included a tour of the institute’s Clinical Research Unit (CRU) — an operation far smaller than the center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“When we discuss policies or other changes, Jan [NIEHS Clinical Director Janet Hall, M.D.] always raises the question of how it will affect the NIEHS facility,” he said. Learning more about the NIEHS CRU was one inspiration for his visit, according to Gilman.
NIEHS also has a clinical research group located in Bethesda. Institute scientists conduct studies in both locations.
Areas of emphasis
Speaking to a crowd in Rodbell Auditorium, Gilman shared an overview of the NIH Clinical Center. He described three areas of emphasis.
- First in human clinical trials of drugs or other treatments.
- Study of the pathophysiology of disease, or the functional changes in the body that are associated with a disease.
- Treatment of patients with diseases that are rare or refractory, which refers to diseases that resist the usual course of treatment.
“What we do changes as the needs of American people change over time,” he explained, pointing to AIDS and Ebola as two examples.
Throughout his talk, Gilman praised the patients who come to NIH for experimental treatments. “There are 18-25 million people in the U.S. with rare diseases,” he pointed out. Those who participate do so in the hope that it will help, but with no guarantees. “We promise to use what we learn to provide help for others,” he said. “They are doing something for all of us.”
Patients as partners
In 2017, the Discovery Channel broadcast a three-part series that followed the course of five patients and their NIH doctors, nurses, and scientists (see video in sidebar). The same year, the NRC Health company awarded the NIH Clinical Center an Excellence Award for its emotional support for patients’ families.
“Patients are our partners,” Gilman said, emphasizing the importance of bedside manner in a facility that must balance patient care with basic scientific research. In response to a question from the audience, Gilman compared the NIH facility with the Department of Defense hospitals he oversaw during his Army career. “There is the same attitude, that we are here to provide a service,” he said.
That attitude is reflected in the center’s new mission statement: We provide hope through pioneering clinical research to improve human health.