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Research center opened to honor George W. Comstock

Facility a tribute to nationally known tuberculosis researcher

June 01, 2011|By MAEGAN CLEARWOOD | maegan.clearwood@herald-mail.com
  • Emma Lou Comstock, center, talks with Center Operations Director Patricia M. Crowley, left, and Andrea DeLuca at the grand opening of the George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention Wednesday morning at its Dual Highway location. Dr. George Comstock's 2006 portrait hangs in the facility's lobby area.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The grand opening of the George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention on Wednesday was a tribute to its namesake, who dedicated his life to public health.

The main lobby of the facility at 1100 Dual Highway was crowded with friends and admirers of the late Dr. Comstock, articles written by and about him and memorabilia from some of his research projects.

Comstock, a nationally known tuberculosis researcher, died in 2007 at the age of 92.

The new research center combines staffs from two units, including one that had been at the Washington County Health Department and has state-of-the-art medical equipment for research and testing funded by theNational Institutes of Health.

The center’s history dates to 1921 when Johns Hopkins University started conducting medical research in Washington County.

In 1962, Comstock founded the Johns Hopkins Training Center for Public Health Research and Prevention in Washington County and led it for 42 years.

Researchers at the center — renamed the George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention in 2005 — have studied such conditions as sleep apnea and heart disease.

Hugging friends and family and smiling for pictures, Comstock’s widow, Emma Lou Comstock, was enthusiastic about the grand opening. She attended the event with Comstock’s children and friends.

“I think this is monumental, a very fitting place for the whole operation to be. It’s great seeing the two units combined,” she said. “It’s a fitting tribute.”

The center’s director, Josef Coresh, said plans for the new building had been in the works for two years. He said that the location has accessible parking, which is ideal for its older research participants.

“It’s exciting that everything is coming together. We’re heading in the right direction,” he said.

Eight people spoke at the celebration, including Michael Klag, the dean of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The event drew a diverse group of people, including representatives from Johns Hopkins University, the Meritus Medical Center and the National Cancer Institute.

Participants of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, a long-term epidemiologic research project, were also at the center Wednesday afternoon for their fifth examination.

Over that 25-year study, Coresh said there has been a 90 percent retention rate among participants.

Such dedication among county residents was, according to Comstock’s daughter, Martha Comstock, one of the reasons her father was committed to research in the area.

“It’s a microcosm of all of America. It’s rural and urban, has a stable population, you could do long-term studies there. That was part of his joy being here. It was a wealth of information,” Martha Comstock said.

Administrative Coordinator Laura Camarata said she understood Comstock’s dedication to Washington County.

“The people who work here and the participants are great. They have a real sense of community. They’re a very dedicated, close-knit group,” Camarata said.

Comstock “thought that research and being part of the community was very important,” Martha Comstock said. “He would have been pleased that it is going to continue. That was his concern, that it continue after he was gone.”

Coresh noted that the center’s 32 staff members will continue ongoing studies and be starting new projects, including a study researching heart disease and dementia prevention.

Emma Lou Comstock is compiling all 2,500 pages of her late husband’s work into bound volumes that can later be used for research.

Considered a top expert on tuberculosis, Comstock helped stamp out an epidemic among Eskimo villages in Alaska in the 1950s and ’60s.

He joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1941 and stayed for 21 years, when he retired and joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins University.

Although he became something of a Washington County legend, friends and family said that Comstock was an affable, unimposing man.

“He was a very modest man. He never liked to take credit,” Martha Comstock said. “He was really a part of the community.”

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