OMRF scientists look ahead to research in 2014

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, medical research isn’t like eating healthy or getting more active.

“You can’t just resolve to make an important discovery,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Breakthrough science takes years and years worth of hard work, incredible insight, lots of failing and trying again, and, finally, some serendipity.”

Still, that doesn’t mean scientists at OMRF aren’t making resolutions of their own. It’s just that they might not sound quite like the sorts of things you and I are pledging to do.

OMRF scientists Jonathan Wren, Ph.D., and Rheal Towner, Ph.D., have their sights set on a particular protein they think could be an effective anti-cancer target. After publishing a paper examining the protein as a way to diagnose glioma, a type of brain cancer, the researchers found antibodies to the protein slowed the cancer’s growth when injected.

In 2014, Towner and Wren are planning to quantify how effective this potential treatment is relative to existing treatments, increase its effectiveness and explore its possible use in other types of cancers.

Towner also hopes to expand the reach of OKN-007, an experimental drug developed at OMRF that is currently undergoing clinical trials at the University of Oklahoma’s Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center. “We are looking to extend the anti-cancer therapy of OKN-007 to pediatric gliomas,” said Towner.

For Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., whose research centers on lupus and other autoimmune diseases, 2014 will be about focus and finishing.

“My lab is going to concentrate on four big areas of research: preclinical autoimmunity, mechanisms of disease flair, infections in autoimmunity and vaccine response,” said James, who holds the Lou C. Kerr Endowed Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “I know that sounds like a lot, but for me, that’s focusing.”

Exploring new avenues is what cell biologist Susannah Rankin, Ph.D., is planning to blend into her research during 2014. While working on grant proposals and writing new papers takes precedence, she said it’s also important to look at what happens when things go awry.

“I’d like to pursue all those little observations in the lab that are interesting, but off-topic,” she said. “Sometimes, that kind of research can lead somewhere big. It’s important not to ignore a result just because it isn’t the one you were looking for.”

Gabriel Pardo, M.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence at OMRF, said 2014 will bring exciting advancements in the treatment of MS.

“We are starting a clinical trial that for the first time is aimed at inducing repair of the areas of the brain damaged by MS,” he said. “That would let us gain ground against the disease as opposed to reducing the risk for new damage or progression of disability, which is what we are able to do so far.”

Like most scientists, OMRF multiple sclerosis researcher Bob Axtell, Ph.D., is hoping to publish more papers in the New Year. But he also has a personal goal we can all relate to.

“Honestly, I’d like to clean up my apartment more often,” he said.