The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology is a cherished resource to the national and international scientific community, but it could be gone within the year. The Defense Department and the Base Realignment and Closure Commission have included it on the list of proposed closures. This potential shutdown has been little noticed amid the attention paid to its neighbor, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Yet AFIP is the world's largest tissue and tumor specimen repository and is a leader in health care research, with 3 million archived cases. It consulted on 60,000 cases last year alone through its 23 disease divisions.

AFIP will be reduced to a warehouse. The Defense Department is salvaging only its medical lawyers, medical examiners and museum; sample collection will cease.

At the laboratory I direct at the George Washington University Medical Center, we found that 80 percent of all breast cancer tumors have the gene BP1 activated -- potentially an immensely significant development for the treatment and detection of breast cancer. Our findings were based on 46 patients. AFIP provided us with more than 300 breast cancer patient samples, and we found an identical positive BP1 activation rate through another scientific technique. Our conclusions have just been published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Because our findings have been substantiated with AFIP's help, we are beginning work to develop a suppressor of the gene, a blood test and a vaccine. We are also trying to determine BP1's relationship to other cancers. We have already discovered and published that it is linked to leukemia as well as breast cancer.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the closure decisions were based on facilities' "military value." Are the lives of our citizens not also a national security issue?

Since 1862, the institute, close to home, has led the nation and the world in disease research and prevention. No more, unless the president or Congress reverses the decision.