Six days a week, 300 participants in the DIGEST study must visit the center to get their blood drawn, their urine and saliva tested, eat dinner and receive their breakfast, lunch and a snack to take home. The study, which examines how diet influences the body's ability to break down potential cancer-causing compounds, depends on complex procedures that could be prohibitively expensive for many researchers to perform. But with Fred Hutchinson's new Prevention Center up and running, DIGEST and other important cancer-research studies can proceed without a hitch.
Similar to how a department store makes life easier for the busy customer, the Prevention Center has the same convenience for researchers and study participants.
Once participants are finished getting their blood drawn at the Prevention Center's ambulatory clinic, they can simply walk a few feet into the Nutrition Lab where the aroma of their dinner awaits them. If a study needs to test an individual's aerobic capacity, a study participant can work up a sweat at the exercise facility down the hall.
"It is really like one-stop shopping," said Yvonne Schwarz, Human Nutrition Lab manager.
For the first time, the new Public Health Sciences building brings together every Prevention Center service on a single floor. Under the direction of Drs. Anne McTiernan and Johanna Lampe, and housed on Level E of the new building, the Prevention Center provides three main services — an exercise center, a human nutrition lab and an ambulatory clinic. The facility is operated by an expert staff of individuals, all with many years of experience in their fields.
"We've noticed that the proverb 'if you build it they will come' really fits with the Prevention Center," McTiernan said. "Since the Prevention Center was built, there have been several studies proposed and funded in both Public Health Sciences and Clinical Research divisions, ranging from prevention to adjuvant treatment of cancer survivors. Luckily, the staff are very adept at balancing a variety of studies, some of which have hundreds or thousands of participants."
Investigators have a superb facility in which to conduct their research, said Jo Ann Henderson, Prevention Center Administrative Manager.
"The prevention program at the center is a model for other institutions throughout the world and now we have the facilities to match," she said.
In its old home at Met Park, the Prevention Center was scattered across three floors, creating many challenges for the 12 staff members. But now with the facilities in one location, it gives them the space and equipment to support a greater number of clinical trials and other prevention-oriented studies more efficiently.
"I think with the old building at Met Park we didn't have what would be considered a facility you could identify with," Henderson said. "On the first and second level of the building were our two clinics, the exercise facility was on the 13 floor and the human nutrition lab was located in the Met Park cafeteria."
Ease of exercise
Henderson said the feature that separates the Prevention Center from any other facility of its kind is its exercise-research center — a 4,000 square-foot, fully equipped gym lined with nine treadmills, five recumbent bikes, three elliptical trainers, two rowing ergometers and six strength-training machines. Study participants can check their form as they are lifting weights in the mirror wall, use the balance bar for stretching and shower in the new locker rooms.
The new exercise facility is designed to make the participants' experience as comfortable as possible. Exercisers enjoy the ability to plug headphones into each cardiovascular machine and choose to view one of four televisions or listen to continuous satellite music. Since many of the participants are reluctant exercisers, this feature gives them a way to escape, said Angela Morgan, Exercise Center project manager.
"This place covers things that you normally wouldn't think about," Morgan said. "Everything about the facility is designed around safety and maintaining proper air temperature and quality settings so that participants are comfortable while exercising vigorously. Research participants come here and have the perfect setting to exercise in."
Within the facility is an exercise-testing room. Graded exercise testing is performed on a special treadmill, which measures maximal aerobic capacity. Each protocol on the machine is designed so the subject reaches a maximal degree of exercise in eight to 12 minutes. The exercise-tolerance testing helps to screen potential study participants to ensure that it is safe for them to proceed with an exercise-intervention study. The exercise-testing room also allows for personalized exercise prescriptions based on the maximal treadmill test results. The facility also has a state-of-the-art emergency system that can alert help to arrive within two to three minutes.
Group health and wellness
In a neighboring room, participants can enjoy activities such as yoga, stretching, aerobics or educational presentations in a new 460-square-foot, multipurpose room designed for group health and wellness research. The room is equipped with a state-of-the-art audiovisual system to enhance any group activity or interaction.
The equipment within the facility was purchased with grants and with donations earmarked for research, such as donations from the Seattle Foundation. Precor, an exercise-machine distributor, donated three of the cardio pieces and sold the other machines to the center at wholesale cost. The upkeep of the exercise center is paid for by both funds from the center's core grant from the National Cancer Institute and individual investigators' grant dollars.
Once participants are finished working out at the exercise center, they can cross the hall to the ambulatory clinic, which accommodates up to 400 participants a day. Eighteen exam rooms are equipped for blood draws, physical exams, body composition measures, and gynecologic exams. One new feature in the exam room is an ultra-low table, which can reach 18 inches off the ground, making it easier for people with disabilities and the elderly.
"We are like a regular functioning clinic now," said Claudia Kumai, ambulatory clinic manager. "When you're bringing people in from the outside who are giving of themselves and their time, I think it is really important to be as professional and as good as you can be and I think that is what this building allows us to do."
One of the rooms in the clinic is designed as a secured pharmacy, where investigators can store their drugs for the studies, making the study process in one location.
Through the hallways of the ambulatory clinic and exercise facility waft mouth-watering aromas from the Human Nutrition Lab Research Kitchen, located a few feet away.
Designed to serve precisely prepared meals to participants enrolled in tightly controlled feeding studies, the shiny new stainless steal kitchen adjoins a spacious dining room that seats 40 people. The kitchen features a six-burner stove, steamers, a convection oven, computerized scales and a blast chiller to cool hot foods fast enough so bacteria cannot form.
The 2,908-square-foot kitchen is an improvement from the lab's former situation at Met Park, where it shared limited facilities with the 195-square-foot staff cafeteria and was required to work around the cafeteria's schedule.
Room for research
"We were really working from a room the size of a walk-in closet," said Yvonne Schwarz, Human Nutrition Lab manager. Schwarz started planning for the new center in 2000. She visited many research kitchens and interviewed staff throughout the United States to get ideas on designing the perfect center at Fred Hutchinson.
"We previously had a couple of freezers, a refrigerator and very little space, so this is a huge improvement, she said. With all the new features, this facility really allows us to meet the needs of almost any study."
As far as study participants are concerned, the Prevention Center represents the main entrance to the new building. The center is located two floors below the street level entrance making it directly above the underground parking garage, which contains reserved parking for participants. The hours for the Prevention Center are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"It is amazing and it has really given us a chance to do world-class research with this facility," Kumai said. "It gives us the ability to do larger studies, to do more studies at once and it gives us the tools to be as precise as we can and to be as professional as we can. It is just the right place for what needs to be done."