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- Greenwood Genetic Center
The GGC Foundation is a nonprofit 501c3 established to serve as the philanthropic arm supporting the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) in their work of serving families in the fight against genetic diseases, birth defects and autism. GGC has provided 40 years of compassionate clinical care, unparalleled diagnostic lab services, globally-renowned research discoveries and innovative educational programs.
Through four decades of dramatic technological advances, the era of genetic therapeutics is upon us – GGC is poised to be at the forefront of this exciting time where the hopes of yesterday are becoming the realities of today.
The concept that would eventually develop into the Greenwood Genetic Center took shape in the thoughts and discussion of two students of human genetics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1971. They dreamed of establishing a center which would put into practical utilization the technology and principles of human heredity they were learning under the exciting tutelage of Rodney Howell, Victor McKusick, and George Thomas. It was not possible to determine where such a Center would find a home (only that it would be in the South), when it could be established (the country’s economy was edging toward recession), nor its exact organizational nature (early responses from medical universities in the South were not encouraging). Undaunted by these uncertainties, Roger Stevenson and Harold Taylor made plans for a Center that would be accessible to families needing genetic services, contemporary in its technology, and compassionate in philosophy. Several years passed before Stevenson and Taylor’s dream would materialize into the nation’s first independent Center to provide comprehensive genetic services.
A series of circumstances in 1973 and 1974 set the stage for the Center’s birth and location in Greenwood. The potential for establishing the Center in Greenwood became obvious to Stevenson while a guest in the home of his lifelong friend, Fred Williams, who had recently moved to Greenwood to begin his practice of orthopedic surgery. Williams, along with R.B. Curry, Jr., Greenwood businessman and trustee at Self Memorial Hospital, and William Klauber, radiologist and regional health planner, initiated plans for bringing the Center to Greenwood. They ignited interest in the Genetic Center concept in the community and worked through the spring and summer of 1974 to secure support for the project. They located site options for construction of facilities, laid groundwork for major funding sources, arranged for long-term capital financing, and, along with Robert Erwin, Greenwood attorney, served on the Founding Board of Directors.
Life was breathed into the Center with the announcement, on August 7, 1974 of a major grant from the Self Foundation. The Foundation’s Trustees further negotiated with the SC Department of Mental Retardation and Governor John West to secure state support for development and operation of the Center. This unique support structure of private and public resources has continued to the present.
Arriving in Greenwood on October 3, 1974, Stevenson brought drawings in hand for the first Center building and plans in mind for a lifetime of work. So complete were the plans, that the Center’s development seemed to progress naturally through the organizational period with clinical and educational programs beginning in the spring of 1975 as facilities were being constructed. The Spring Street facility, occupied in July 1975, provided 7,500 square feet of space for a clinic, offices, library, conference room and laboratories. It served the Center as the base of operations until July 1984.
Taylor arrived from Baltimore in April 1975 to begin the tasks of recruiting and training personnel for the laboratory, overseeing construction of the laboratory and placing laboratory procedures in operation. Activities of the laboratory expanded rapidly; so rapidly in fact, that space within the lab became a problem within three years. New laboratories, named in honor of James Cuthbert Self, were constructed on a beautiful 8 acre site in the Medical Center area provided by Greenwood Mills. These laboratories were placed in operation in August 1980.
Clinical development was likewise rapid with satellite clinics established at the Anderson Family Practice Center (1975), Whitten Center in Clinton (1975), Greenville General Hospital (1976), Spartanburg General Hospital (1977), Midlands Center in Columbia (1978), Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children (1979), Pee Dee Center in Florence (1981), Saleeby Center in Hartsville (1981) and Self Memorial Hospital (1981). Patient visits have grown steadily from the opening of the clinic to present.
The Center joined with the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in 1979 to form the South Carolina Consortium of Regional Genetic Centers. Through the Consortium, the Centers share clinical and laboratory expertise, provide educational programs, and plan for the delivery of genetic services in South Carolina. The expertise of the clinical and laboratory units have been shared beyond the state’s borders through consultative services with Shriners Hospital for Children and by providing laboratory testing for other genetic units.
Faculty development posed perhaps the greatest challenge to the fledgling organization. Growing patient numbers, as well as a commitment to education and research necessitated the recruitment of additional physicians, laboratory technologists and genetic counselors. Yet, the Center’s fragile nature made competition with academic centers for the limited number of available genetics workers difficult. The arrival of Richard Schroer from Bowman Gray School of Medicine, to join the staff in 1978, marked the beginning of the Center’s faculty growth. Robert Saul came from Duke University a year later, Mary Phelan from Medical College of Virginia in 1982, Curtis Rogers from Greenville Hospital in 1983, JoAnn Kelly from Washington University in 1984, and Charles Schwartz from the University of Utah in 1985. These faculty members took the lead in developing important programs for the Center.
Opening in 1996, the J. C. Self Research Institute of Human Genetics is a state and national resource where scientists seek a greater understanding of the causes, treatment, and prevention of birth defects and mental retardation. The Institute is taking a leading role in genetic research in South Carolina. Whether mapping part of the vast unknown areas of the human genome, studying the effects of a single gene gone awry, or putting into practice a strategy for families to avoid hereditary disease, scientists at the Institute hope their work will bring the next generation closer to the goal of having all babies born healthy and free of physical and mental disabilities.
Research at the Institute is divided into two major Centers: The Center for Molecular Studies and The Center for Anatomic Studies. The primary research focus in the Center for Molecular Studies is gaining a greater understanding of mental retardation, discovering new mechanisms which contribute to genetic disease, and developing new strategies for prevention. The Center for Anatomic Studies devotes its resources toward understanding the mechanisms by which birth defects occur and how they may be prevented.
In 1999, the Center received a $3.5 million grant from the S.C. General Assembly to establish the South Carolina Biotechnology Incubation Facility, a 22,000 square foot west wing addition to the J.C. Self Research Institute of Human Genetics. About 8,000 sq. ft. of the facility is used for laboratory modules and related office space which is available for defined periods of time to promising projects and companies. The building also includes a library, conference facility, and space for central services and other support activities. Economically viable projects will spin-off into separate operations in the surrounding Biotechnology Park.
In anticipation of the expansion of newborn screening in our state, the South Carolina Metabolic Diseases Program was initiated at GGC in 1999 to develop the manpower, protocols, laboratory testing and other support necessary to assure appropriate evaluation, treatment and follow up of individuals with complex metabolic diseases.
As the Center expanded its focus into the area of treatment, the vision for the South Carolina Center for the Treatment of Genetic Disorders was conceived. This 30,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility opened in 2009 and houses both the Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Divisions of the Center. It serves as home for the Metabolic Treatment Program and supports the Center’s active involvement in clinical natural history studies and treatment trials.
The Division of Education expanded in 2010 through a grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute allowing for the conversion of former laboratory space into a Genetic Education Center. That same year the Gene Machine, a custom mobile science laboratory, was acquired to provide genetic laboratory experiences for high school students and teachers across South Carolina.