The first cases of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the United States appeared in the early 1980s. A short time later, the 1917 Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) opened to take on the disease. Now, 25 years later, the clinic is going strong and celebrating all of the birthdays achieved through its research, education and care.
“Around the mid-1980s, more and more patients with AIDS-related illnesses were being referred to UAB from across state,” said Michael Saag, M.D., UAB professor of medicine and director of the UAB Center for AIDS Research (CFAR). “They couldn’t get the treatment elsewhere.”
“Many community providers didn’t have formal training in infectious diseases, and AIDS was still new,” Saag added. “So rather than running from it, we embraced it and took it on.”
Saag went on to propose starting a comprehensive health clinic for patients with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS. On January 28, 1988, the 1917 Clinic opened its doors at its now former location, 1917 5th Avenue South, with Saag serving as founding director.
“Our first day we saw several patients,” Saag remembered. “Soon after we launched the azidothymidine (AZT) study which enrolled well over 70 patients.”
Current 1917 Clinic Director James Raper, D.S.N., CRNP, who first joined the staff in the mid ’90s, explained that, looking back over the history of the clinic, there is a lot to be proud of and commemorate. "It’s a jubilee; it is truly a jubilee. The legacy that has occurred here and continues developing here at the clinic is heartwarming and a professional gift.”
The AZT study was just the beginning. Of the 27 antiretroviral drugs now approved for AIDS, seven were tested first in patients at the 1917 Clinic in Phase 1 clinical trials.
Other notable moments in the timeline of the 1917 Clinic include:
- Joining the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) in 1992
- Consolidating of research and outpatient clinics by moving to the current location in 1994: 908 20th Street South
- Receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the AIDS vaccine group in 1994
- Opening a dental clinic in 1995
- Receiving Ryan White Early Intervention Service funding in 1997
- Launching its own electronic medical records (EMR) system in 2004 to improve patient care and research
- Expanding viral hepatitis care with a dedicated clinic in July 2012
- Incorporating more than 800 new patients displaced from the closing of another local clinic in February 2013
“We’ve done a lot of evaluation of how host and virus interact, and how the virus causes disease, and we’ve developed a better understanding of the biology of HIV,” Saag explained. “A lot of the work done by researchers at the 1917 Clinic interfaces with research done at the CFAR, and it’s as good as you can find anywhere else in the world.”
Current 1917 Clinic Director James Raper, D.S.N., CRNP, who first joined the staff in the mid ’90s, explained that, looking back over the history of the clinic, there is a lot to be proud of and commemorate.
“It’s a jubilee; it is truly a jubilee,” Raper noted. “The legacy that has occurred here and continues developing here at the clinic is heartwarming and a professional gift.”
In observance of 25 years of birthdays through research, education and care, a weekend of events will be held starting with a scientific symposium on Friday, April 26, from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the UAB Cudworth Hall Auditorium.
“We wanted to invite prominent leaders of the HIV scientific community who had roots and connections to UAB to be here and inform us about the current status of science in the field of HIV from their individual perspectives,” Raper said.
Presenters will include George Shaw, M.D., Michael Kilby, M.D., Eric Hunter, Ph.D., Michael Mugavero, M.D., Victoria Johnson, M.D., Paul Goepfert, M.D., Mary Fisher, a patient of Saag and Raper’s. Saag will moderate the event.
“It will be an intellectually stimulating day that will be filled with memories, catching up and getting reacquainted with each other, as many of these researchers came from UAB,” Raper added.
A celebration party will be held Friday night will at the B&A Warehouse at 1531 First Avenue South, at 6:30 p.m. The 65th birthday of Mary Fisher will also be celebrated at the event.
On Saturday, April 27, a memorial service will be held from 1-2 p.m. at the Baptist Church of the Covenant, 2117 University Boulevard, followed immediately by a "Walk in Remembrance" to the 1917 Clinic.
“The memorial and walk is a moment to realize how far we’ve come, but also a chance to recognize those people who lost their lives to the disease,” Raper said. “I think of the patients that are no longer with us, and it provides resolve for continued dedication.”
To cap off Saturday’s events, an open house will be held at the 1917 Clinic from 2-5 p.m., with cake and remarks at 3:30 p.m.
“This is our opportunity to showcase where we deliver care and the resources that we have here; this is going to give folks in the community the chance to meet the people who work tirelessly to provide the best care possible to every patient that comes through our doors,” Raper concluded.