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November 22, 2004 

Training Center for Public Health Research Is Renamed to Honor Its First Director

In 1962, George W. Comstock joined the full-time faculty of the Department of Epidemiology as the first director of the newly established Training Center for Public Health Research in Hagerstown, Md. This was a joint enterprise of the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Washington County Health Department and the then Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

George W. Comstock

George W. Comstock

This year, in honor of Dr. Comstock’s more than 40 years of outstanding service as director, the Department of Epidemiology, along with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is pleased to announce that the Training Center has been renamed: It is now the George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention.

With the overall goal of promoting the public’s health, the Center will continue striving to meet its more specific objectives: to provide a base of operations for faculty and students interested in community-based research; to serve as a resource to the local health department in the areas of public health surveillance and assessment; and to provide data for epidemiology courses in case-control studies.

Dr. Comstock and Dr. Kathy Helzlsouer, the Center’s current director, are proud of the Center’s contributions to the community and to the field of community-based research. The Center’s publications list is extensive, and many of the projects and initiatives are outgrowths of student research. Currently, approximately 20 students are involved in research there, tapping into the rich resources of health information about the population of Washington County, including a cancer registry started in 1948.

Ongoing studies include the Early Detection Research Network; the Survey of the Health Status of Residents of Washington County, Maryland; the Specialized Programs in Research Excellence (SPORE): Molecular Epidemiology of Progression to Breast Cancer, and the Odyssey Cohort of the National Institute on Aging. The cohort for this last study is composed of 8,394 Washington County residents who participated in two specimen banks: CLUE I, established in 1974, and CLUE II, established in 1989. This cohort has been followed prospectively by Center staff since 1974.

Dr. Comstock is a walking public relations campaign for the Center. The 89-year-old public health practitioner would rather discuss the students affiliated with the Center and their research than the many accolades he has received throughout his distinguished career. It is not surprising that one of the selection criteria for recipients of the prestigious Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific Achievement—which Dr. Comstock was awarded in 2003—is participation in the training of future leaders in the field (along with having a positive impact on the health of humankind and excellence in clinical and research activities). And again it is no surprise that so many of his students from over 40 years of teaching traveled from all over the country to attend a symposium in his honor, held at the School in October 2002. 

Those currently charged with the Center’s directorship—Dr. Helzlsouer, Dr. Anthony Alberg, and Ms. Sandra C. Hoffman—were themselves trained by Dr. Comstock and know the legacy with which they are entrusted. Any institution named for George Comstock will clearly need to maintain high scientific standards, have the interests of the community research participants at heart and put student growth and opportunities at the top of its  priorities. The George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention has a sterling tradition to carry on, and a director emeritus who embodies the best of public health research. —Charlotte Gerczak