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Stanford Report, November 8, 2000

Anonymous donor gives $31.8 million for pulmonary center

BY KRISTIN WEIDENBACH

Stanford physicians and researchers specializing in treating patients with severe diseases of blood vessels in the lungs have received an anonymous donation of $31.8 million to establish the Vera Moulton Wall Center for Pulmonary Vascular Disease at Stanford. The new center will provide comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic services for adults and children with pulmonary vascular disease and will support research dedicated to finding new treatments.

The Wall Center will formalize many informal collaborations that already exist between heart specialists, lung specialists, and other researchers and physicians, said Jeffrey Feinstein, MD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics, director of pediatric and congenital cardiac catheterization at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, and director of the new center. "It will streamline the clinical process -- enabling us to take care of more patients -- and it will build upon our current research efforts," he said.

"The center creates a new model for a collaboration that includes adults and children -- it crosses the age barrier," said co-director Ramona Doyle, MD, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine and associate director of Stanford's lung/heart-lung transplantation program. "It is also cross-disciplinary -- Jeff's specialty is the heart while mine is the lungs," Doyle said.

According to Doyle and Feinstein, much of the research that will be supported by the financial gift will be directed toward the treatment of pulmonary hypertension, a condition characterized by dangerously high blood pressure in the lungs. Over time, the stress exerted on the vessels by the unrelenting flow of blood at high pressure causes vessel scarring and other damage. High blood pressure in the lungs can result from a structural problem such as a hole in the chambers of the heart or can arise from a narrowing of vessels due, for example, to formation of a clot.

According to Feinstein there currently is no effective oral medication available to people suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension. People with severe disease commonly must use a drug that is administered continuously through an intravenous catheter, requiring them to carry with them at all times a medicine pumping device and icepacks to keep the medicine chilled. Clinical trials already underway at Stanford aim to find alternative oral medications for these patients. "Oral medication would give people their life back in more than one way," said Feinstein, stressing the importance of finding new treatments and medications for severe pulmonary hypertension.

Feinstein and his colleagues are also using innovative techniques to treat patients with pulmonary hypertension caused by blood clots in the vessels. Balloon angioplasty moves the clot aside, effectively widening the vessels and thereby reducing blood pressure, Feinstein explains. "It is a therapy we're using here that is done at only one other place in the world." He and Doyle believe that the Wall Center will foster collaborations between researchers in the schools of medicine and engineering, which will lead to more unique treatment options to benefit patients.

"We are profoundly grateful for the donor's insight and generosity in funding the Wall Center for Pulmonary Vascular Disease," said Eugene Bauer, MD, SUMC vice president and medical school dean. "I am confident that it will serve as a model for research and treatment of many pediatric and adult conditions."

The anonymous donation, named for Vera Moulton Wall, was made through Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health. The foundation, established in 1996, raises funds for both Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the pediatric programs of Stanford University School of Medicine.