While the name on the door may change in September, the values, the ideals and the goals of OMRF will not change.” J. Donald Capra, M.D.
The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation enters a new era on September 1 when J. Donald Capra, M.D., becomes its fourth president and scientific director. Capra, a well-known immunologist from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, will succeed William G. Thurman, M.D., who retires August 31 after serving 18 years at the helm of the Oklahoma City-based foundation.
“While it is difficult to imagine OMRF without Bill Thurman, his dedication to making OMRF a high quality research institute is clearly one reason we were able to attract someone of Dr. Capra’s caliber to come here,” said Dr. David R. Brown, chairman of OMRF’s Board of Directors. “We are pleased that Dr. Capra has agreed to come to Oklahoma City and look forward to working with him as OMRF enters its second fifty years.”
Capra comes to OMRF from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas where he served as professor of microbiology and internal medicine and the Edwin L. Cox Distinguished Chair in Immunology and Genetics. He joined the UT Southwestern staff in 1974 and is currently director of Southwestern’s Molecular Immunology Center. Born in Vermont, he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and an M.D. from the University of Vermont. He held research fellowships at the National Institutes of Health and Rockefeller University. He was professor of microbiology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York.
“I am humbled to have the torch of leadership of this institution pass to me,” said Dr. Capra. “I know I speak for everyone in saying thank you to Dr. Thurman for his role in taking the OMRF to elite status among research institutions in the world. I am very proud to have been asked to follow in his footsteps, and I look forward to working with him, with the Board of Directors, with the scientists, and with the many fine people I have met at OMRF.”
In addition to his duties as president, Capra will continue his research projects in the laboratory. His research focuses on the immune system at the molecular level. He is particularly interested in the genetic origin of human antibodies and their structure and also in the role of a specialized white blood cell, called a T cell, in human immune system responses. Dr. Capra’s work in this area is yielding valuable data that has a broad range of clinical applications in treating and managing or detecting various diseases.
Some of the work done by Capra and his colleagues is being developed for the biotechnology market. One test being perfected could eventually play a crucial role in matching donors and recipients for transplant surgeries, and another could be a test to help couples determine whether they are likely to have children with insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (juvenile diabetes).
When asked about the transition to come at OMRF, Dr. Max Cooper, well known immunologist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said, “Bill Thurman is my idol. He’s one of the reasons I went into medical research. But Don Capra is an outstanding scientist and scholar, and one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen. He has been influential in the study of antibody genes and how they are mutated in autoimmune disorders. Oklahoma City is very fortunate to be getting Don Capra.”
“This is an exciting time for OMRF,” said Dr. Thurman. “So many advances have been made in research in the past ten years, and OMRF scientists are leading the way in several areas. I am sure Dr. Capra will provide the momentum and leadership necessary to maintain OMRF’s presence in the research world as we enter the next century.”