By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
SILVER SPRING, Md., March 8, 2012 – Pathology, the study of disease, has a new home in military medicine’s quest for top-notch care of service members, veterans and their families.
The Joint Pathology Center, a new Defense Department organization, has assumed the second-opinion work of human and veterinary pathology from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which closed in September.
“The AFIP was a venerable, renowned institution, not just to the military but the world,” Navy Vice Adm. John M. Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, said March 6 before the first tour of the center by local and federal officials since the transfer of responsibility from AFIP began in April.
“The Joint Pathology Center is the future of medicine resources beyond words,” Mateczun added.
The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act established the center after Congress saw a need for it in federal medicine, Mateczun said. The center comes under the umbrella of the Joint Task Force of the National Capital Region.
“The mission of the [Joint Pathology Center] is consultation, education and research,” said Army Col. Thomas Baker, the center’s interim director. In addition to human pathology, the center conducts a veterinary pathology residency rotation so students can study military working dogs and other animals to better manage and improve their care, officials said.
“It is a national treasure,” Baker said, noting that no cases have been disposed of since the repository’s inception during World War I. “We can relook at specimens of all different diagnoses from before.” The former AFIP also diagnosed civilian pathology cases but a General Accountability Office study determined that resources in academia could easily handle that mission.
The new center’s staff comprises 30 pathologists who specialize in each organ of the body. Altogether, Baker said, the center makes 18,000 diagnoses per year on cases that are difficult to diagnose at other hospitals.
The center’s second opinion can alter a patient’s diagnosis, treatment and prognosis, Baker said. Using “telepathology,” he added, a pathologist at a Veterans Affairs or military hospital overseas anywhere in the world can get a patient’s results back from the center in 24 hours.
Using the latest medical technology, a scanning electron microscope can show the inside of a single cell up to 100,000 times its actual size. A transmission scanning microscope scans the surface of cells that are magnified 1 million times. The center’s advanced technology exceeds capabilities available at other pathology laboratories in diagnosing tumor types, determining certain genetic alterations, recommending types of chemotherapy and helping to determine long-term survival prospects for patients, Baker said.
Molecular laboratories at the new center can detect specific micro-organisms, viruses and bacteria in very low levels and diagnose hereditary syndromes, he added.
When a diagnosis is complete, specimens are preserved in wax and stored at the center’s tissue repository, where officials estimated that about 17,300 cases are stored in any given aisle.
The center also runs a laboratory at nearby Joint Base Andrews to analyze shrapnel removed from troops wounded in war to look for traces of uranium, Baker said. DOD and VA require analysis of all combat-associated metal fragments, once thought to be nonthreatening, that might pose long-term health hazards, he explained.