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USF suggests diabetes hospital


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TAMPA — Leaders at the University of South Florida got nowhere this year when they asked for legislative help to build a hospital on campus.

But they haven't given up. Now they're bringing the proposal back, with a twist. They're tying the hospital idea to USF's biggest research projects, federal diabetes grants that have brought in nearly $400-million.

So, how about a diabetes hospital?

"Diabetes makes a whole lot of sense, because we are the research epicenter right now," USF president Judy Genshaft said Friday.

The project is in the earliest stages, but USF officials clearly hope it will draw less opposition from other Tampa Bay hospitals, which saw the original proposal as competition.

"There's a legitimate concern that we have a lot of hospitals in this area, and whether just having another hospital is something we need right now," said Dr. Stephen Klasko, vice president of USF Health and dean of USF's medical school. "We can articulate why (a USF research hospital) is different, but I can understand that argument."

Whether focusing on a diabetes hospital would mute opposition remains to be seen. Officials at Tampa General Hospital, USF's primary teaching hospital, wouldn't comment Friday.

At this point, there aren't any definite plans, feasibility studies or model legislation. Genshaft said she's started talking to potential donors but has no funding for the idea yet.

There are only a few such centers around the nation. The Joslin Clinic, affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, probably is the best known.

For USF, focusing on diabetes would have advantages on two fronts. First, USF leaders want to capitalize on the grant money already won by a researcher, Dr. Jeffrey Krischer.

Krischer, a biostatistics expert, is coordinating worldwide research studies on how to prevent and treat Type 1 diabetes. But Krischer's research power is in computers. Patients for the studies come from other sites.

"Let's say he was at a place like U. Penn," Klasko said. "He would say, the majority of the clinical work I do is at the (university) hospital. We're missing that piece because we don't have an academic medical center on our campus."

The other draw for USF is that diabetes attacks so many parts of the body. It can affect the eyes, the kidneys, the nerves and the cardiovascular system. A hospital specializing in treating diabetics would draw on a broad variety of specialties, allowing for a wide spectrum of research.

Which raises another possibility: Would USF keep its focus on diabetes, or eventually expand the hospital into a more general facility? Klasko left that possibility open.

"We could potentially expand that hospital and that becomes a diabetes wing," he said.

But Klasko also tried to forestall opposition to that idea, as well, saying that USF would consider "partnering with Tampa General or anybody else" on the project.

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