The white lab coats looked a little baggy. The goggles were a bit loose. But make no mistake about it: The 16 elementary school students who spent Tuesday morning at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation were serious about their science.
Whether it was sequencing DNA, learning to pipette or examining tiny organisms through high-powered microscopes, the students – all from Putnam City Schools – made the most of their time in OMRF laboratories. They had the rare opportunity to work one-on-one with some of the state’s leading scientists, and the scientists had the chance to say thank-you to some of the state’s youngest and most generous philanthropists.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of a philanthropic partnership between Putnam City Schools and OMRF. During that time, proceeds from the annual district-wide Putnam City Cancer Drive have raised more than $2.3 million to support cancer research at OMRF. In 2004, the drive donated $131,000 to OMRF, and on Tuesday, OMRF announced that Putnam City has pledged to raise another $500,000 over the next five years.
“This is a remarkable commitment from a remarkable group of young people,” said Tim Yaciuk, OMRF director of development. “We couldn’t ask for better teammates in the fight against cancer.”
Putnam City’s donations have purchased a vast array of sophisticated laboratory equipment, including centrifuges, microscopes and incubators, all of which have proved crucial to scientists’ efforts to unlock the secrets of cancer. Proceeds from the cancer drive also established an endowed chair at OMRF, the Putnam City Schools Chair in Cancer Research. With the new pledge, this position will become a Distinguished Research Chair, the first chair so designated at OMRF.
“I don’t know of another endowed chair anywhere funded entirely by students,” said OMRF President J. Donald Capra, M.D. “The generosity of Putnam City students has helped our scientist make important inroads against a deadly disease.”
The Putnam City Schools Chair in Cancer Research is held by OMRF scientist Linda Thompson, Ph.D., whose work has helped create a new breast cancer risk assessment test. Known as OncoVue and manufactured by Oklahoma City biotechnology company InterGenetics, the test will be available this fall and will provide women with a one-time screening to assess their lifelong risk of developing breast cancer.
Putnam City began supporting cancer research at OMRF in 1975, when the disease struck down four Putnam City teachers. Lois Thomas, then a journalism teacher at Putnam City High School, decided that she needed to take action.
“I remembered as a kid when President Roosevelt asked us to collect nickels and dimes for polio,” said Thomas, now 86 and retired from teaching. “When polio was conquered, I felt I was part of the solution. So I thought, let’s do the same thing with cancer.”
Thirty years – and untold bake sales, car washes and carnivals later – Thomas is delighted that Putnam City’s cancer-fighting tradition is stronger than ever. “It thrills me to see the dedication that these young people display year after year,” she said. “These students want to leave their mark on the search for a cure for cancer, and they are succeeding.”
High-resolution photos of Junior Scientist Day are available by email upon request.
Chartered in 1946, OMRF (www.omrf.org) is a nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and curing human disease. Its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease. OMRF is home to Oklahoma’s only member of the National Academy of Sciences.