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Friday February 16, 2001

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Senate panel approves funding for UA neurogenic disorders center

By Eric Swedlund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX - The Senate Education Committee yesterday gave preliminary approval for funding of four UA programs, giving the bills an opportunity to battle their way through the Appropriations Committee.

Leading the way for yesterday's University of Arizona requests is Senate

Bill 1534, which would give $1 million in each of the next two years to the Center for Neurogenic Communication Disorders. An amendment that would cut the funding to only the second year was adopted.

During the past 10 years, the center has received $14.3 million in federal grants, but that source of funding will lapse at the end of August.

Thomas Hixon, the center's director, said it is the premiere center of its

type in the world.

The center is internationally renowned for its research on diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, developmental brain disorders and other speech and language disorders caused by diseases of the nervous system.

The center has 65 employees and works on five major research projects. Hixon said the center is the best training program in the United States, providing half of the nation's researchers in those areas.

Hixon told the committee that as one of three UA programs ranked No. 1 in the United States - the others being optical sciences and geohydrology - state funding is crucial to keeping the center alive. "It's the only number one program on campus that has anything to do with the human condition," Hixon said.

The committee approved the bill by a 6-1 vote. Sen. Tom Smith, R-Phoenix, cast the lone dissenting vote.

In other business, the Education Committee approved SBs 1507, 1508 and 1533.

SB 1533 would give the UA's Program in Integrative Medicine $1.125 million in each of the next two years.

The program, established by Dr. Andrew Weil in 1994, combines alternative and conventional medicine and has never received state funding.

"This bill will help expand the program further for physicians going out into this area of growing importance," said Judy Bernas, Arizona Health Sciences Center lobbyist.

The bill passed by a 6-1 vote, with Smith dissenting.

SB 1507 would give $600,000 in each of the next two years to the Arizona Health Sciences Center for medical programs, physician training and the public health graduate program at the Phoenix campus.

Bernas said half of the UA's medical students and one-third of pharmacy and public health students receive part of their education while working at the Phoenix campus, which was established in 1992.

Bernas said the funding increase would go to expanding the campus to more students and serve a greater part of the state, including increasing the UA's ability to reach out to provide health care in rural areas of the state.

The bill passed 5-1, with Smith dissenting again.

SB 1508 would give $1 million during the next two years to the UA's south campus in Sierra Vista.

The funding would establish a joint program between the UA and Cochise College to address the shortage of nurses with advanced training in southern Arizona.

The committee approved the measure 6-0.