SF unveils new
HIV research offices
by Matthew S. Bajko
On the other side of a private street entrance sits a freshly painted white-colored waiting area with green-hued modern furniture. Ready to greet participants of various HIV research studies sits a receptionist behind an open counter.
Researchers summoned to greet their study participants emerge from a closed door, behind which runs a corridor lined with exam rooms fitted with state-of-the-art equipment. Nowhere lies a trace of the long-closed Bull's Texas Cafe Restaurant that once called the ground floor space at 25 Van Ness home.
"When I walked in for my test, my eyes lit up. I couldn't believe I was in the same study or same location or anything," said Jim Wick, 45, a San Francisco resident who is part of an HIV vaccine trial. "It was like walking into a brand new doctor's office waiting area to meet the doctor. It is very sterile, bright, clean and new. It was a big success."
The facilities are the new home for the HIV research section of the city's Department of Public Health. The section's old exam rooms and staff offices were housed on the upper floors of the building and had a more business – rather than clinical – vibe.
The structure wasn't built to house medical facilities, "so you can try to create this warm experience but it is still an office you are entering," noted Derrick Mapp, 47, a member of the community advisory group for the HIV Vaccine Trial Network. "W ith this new space it is still an office but much more inviting and there is much more open space. It has a warm feel to it; even the furniture has that living room effect to it."
City officials will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly built, world-class research facility at 10 a.m. Friday, September 28. It will also double as a public unveiling for the section's newly adopted name of Bridge HIV.
The section officially changed its moniker in late August when it began moving staff into its expanded research and clinical facilities. Its old quarters on several higher floors in the building were cramped, as the section shared space with the staff of the HIV prevention and HIV epidemiology sections.
"We have been crawling all over each other," said Dr. Susan Buchbinder, director of the Bridge HIV section.
The changes came about due to the San Francisco Office and Renovation (SOAR) project, funded by a $9.5 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health. An eagle-eyed Bridge HIV employee, graphic designer Janie Vinson, saw a notice about a competitive bidding process being offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The section submitted an application and the health department project was chosen to receive funding designated for new or refurbished research infrastructure. In total 8,000 square feet of clinic space has been added and 9,000 square feet of existing space is being renovated.
"Universities have the resources to build this kind of facility but the city could never build something like this," said Buchbinder, who has worked for the public health department since 1988.
During a recent sneak peak she gave the Bay Area Reporter of the new facilities, Buchbinder recalled how the roof would leak on the section's computers at its first location on Market Street. It then moved into 25 Van Ness and, as the AIDS offices expanded, "we were bursting at the seams. We didn't have space for everybody," she recalled.
Standing in a new lab room, Buchbinder pointed out the various equipment her staff can now use to conduct the clinical trials. A large cabinet of drawers had orange Post-it notes affixed to it detailing the contents held inside, such as injection supplies and urine samples.
A Thermolyne Speci-Mix tube rocker machine sat on a counter rotating a vile of blood, with trays nearby holding already spun tubes of blood drawn from trial participants.
"It is a beautiful lab. It feels three times as big as the old lab we have. And this is much more advanced equipment," said Kimberly Marsh, the Bridge HIV section's laboratory coordinator. "The trial participants seem quite pleased. A lot of people say it looks beautiful. The aesthetics are important because we want them to feel at ease when they come here."
Construction began last fall and the former restaurant space was completely gutted as part of the first phase. The ground floor space will support Bridge HIV staffers who are conducting studies into several HIV prevention strategies, such as clinical trials on an HIV vaccine and the use of rectal microbicides.
The section will begin enrolling men into the microbicide study in October. And it has the capacity now to expand its prerogative further into other HIV prevention strategies.
The new set up also affords more privacy for trial participants.
"Now we have our own reception area," said Buchbinder. "People can come directly to us and don't have to sign in if they come in from the brand new alley access," which is off of Oak Street.
Work is ongoing to remodel workstations and exam rooms on the fifth floor and construct a new community meeting room on the sixth floor. That work will benefit the HIV prevention section, which is gaining its own remodeled exam rooms.
"It will be a wonderful place to reach participants for the research the HIV prevention section does," said Tracey Packer, the section's interim director.
A new secure space was also built for the department's HIV registry that is separate from the other HIV sections so staff can move about more freely.
"With improvements to several floors in the building, we will expand our ability to conduct state-of-the-art HIV research and promote collaboration between and within research units and colleagues worldwide, stated Barbara Garcia, an out lesbian who is the city's director of health.
For more information about the research Bridge HIV is conducting, and how to volunteer as a trial participant, visit http://www.bridgehiv.org/.