Pathology Institute Defends Its Turf

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 17, 2009

For nearly 150 years, from its origins during the Civil War, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington has helped diagnose illnesses and solve medical mysteries.

The institute's unsurpassed repository of 95 million tissue samples helped researchers reconstruct the virus behind the notorious 1918-19 Spanish flu three years ago, providing clues on how to battle new pandemics such as the H1N1 virus. Earlier this month, the institute's DNA lab in Rockville identified the remains of Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, ending nearly two decades of uncertainty over the fate of the pilot, shot down during the Persian Gulf War.

Despite the institute's renown, the Pentagon announced plans four years ago to shut it down as part of the closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2011 because of the federal base-closing program.

A private company revealed plans this month to fill the "critical void" left by the institute's closing. A news release Aug. 7 announced the formation of "AFIP Laboratories," made up of staff from "the soon-to-be-closed Armed Forces Institute of Pathology."

Company officials say they are hiring more than two dozen civilian pathologists from the institute. The company has leased space in Silver Spring, three miles from Walter Reed, and is set to begin operations on Sept. 8.

But the military institute insists that reports of its demise are exaggerated.

Last Monday, the private company, a division of Bostwick Laboratories, received a letter from the Defense Department requesting that it cease using the AFIP name. On Thursday, the company agreed, changing its name to "AIP Laboratories."

In addition, the military institute placed a scrolling notice on its Web site last week denying that the institute will be closing soon and will not be taking new cases.

"Unfortunately, it has come to the attention of the AFIP that some contributors are confused and under the false impression that the AFIP will no longer be accepting cases for consultation after August 2009," the announcement said. "This is not the case -- the AFIP has not closed."

"We're worried that there's been misleading information put out there," Army Col. Jo Lynne Raymond, deputy commander of the institute, said in an interview. "We want to set the record straight -- we are the AFIP."

Institute pathologists will continue to provide consultative services on behalf of the military, Veterans Affairs, other federal agencies and the civilian medical community, a number that typically reaches 50,000 cases or more a year, Raymond said.

Though it is still slated to close, the institute is hiring pathologists to replace the ones leaving for the private company, she said.

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