At a press conference today at the State Capitol, Dr. Frank Waxman, Director of the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), announced that two Oklahoma research institutions have been awarded nearly $21 million in biomedical research grants by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Awarded by the NIH Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, administered by the National Center for Research Resources, the grants promote the biomedical research capability among states that historically have been underrepresented by traditional NIH grants.
In competing for these funds, twenty-three states and Puerto Rico were each allowed to submit two proposals. Only three states, including Oklahoma, received funding for both proposals and the nearly $21million was the largest amount awarded to any state.
The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) received $11.5 million and The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OHUSC) received $9.1 million. These primary recipients of the Oklahoma awards will use the funds to establish Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence.
“With the field of scientific research becoming increasingly competitive, it is rewarding to see Oklahoma secure such notable awards,” said Chancellor Hans Brisch. “Research grants such as these from the NIH are critical in establishing a margin of excellence for Oklahoma and will enable us to enhance student learning as well as our state’s ability to compete for better jobs, advanced technology and additional research funding.”
While the NIH’s IdeA Program itself is not new, the ability for disadvantaged states to compete for specified funds is a recent change. This year, Congressman Ernest Istook and Senator Jim Inhofe introduced legislation designed to direct the NIH to establish a competitive grant program for disadvantaged states.
The IdeA grants will support investigators not only at OUHSC and OMRF, but scientists from Oklahoma State University, Tulsa University, The OU Norman Campus and OUHSC-Tulsa who will collaborate on the projects.
“One of the most important benefits of EPSCoR and IDeA is that they promote research that links scientists in all of Oklahoma’s comprehensive campuses which strengthens Oklahoma’s overall competitiveness for research funding and provides the foundation for both future biomedical breakthroughs and economic development,” said Dr. Waxman of EPSCoR. “Credit for this success must go to both the outstanding scientific leadership of the project directors and to the hard work of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, especially Congressmen Istook and Lucas and Senators Inhofe and Nickles.”
The OUHSC grant will establish the Center for Functional Genomics/Proteomics for Bacterial/Host Interactions. This Center will be devoted to examining how infectious microorganisms cause disease and how the human host responds to this infection.
“This information is essential for developing the ability to effectively control and combat infections,” said David Dyer, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at OUHSC and Director of the newly established Center. “Four projects are currently supported, studying infections such as Lyme Disease, E. coli, and anthrax. We are confident that by studying the genesis of the infection, scientists will be able to develop treatments or vaccines to combat these diseases.”
“This grant is a national recognition of the outstanding research capabilities of the University of Oklahoma,” said University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren. “It is another sign that OU’s growing research programs are an important engine for economic growth for our state in the future. Biomedical and genetics research will contribute as much to economic growth in the future as information technology has contributed in the last 25 years.”
The OMRF grant, entitled “Mentoring Immunology in Oklahoma: A Biomedical Program,” funds the research of scientists from institutions across the state, including OMRF, OUHSC, OU-Tulsa, and OSU. A substantial portion of the grant funds four mentoring teams, pairing a senior investigator with a recently hired scientist in the areas of autoimmune diseases, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Mentoring is a key component in the IDeA project because it encourages talented young investigators to stay in Oklahoma and to improve the biomedical community at home, rather than move to another state or region.
Research teams who receive IDeA grants will be led by an established investigator who will lead promising young scientists in the development of their skills through concentration on specific areas of research.
In their recommendation, the IDeA review committee praised Oklahoma’s mentoring approach highly, noting that the proposal “has the potential to substantially expand the state-of-the-art immunology and molecular biology in Oklahoma.”
OMRF President and Project Manager, J. Donald Capra, emphasized the importance of collaboration and cooperation: “Without our congressional delegation, particularly Representative Istook and Senator Inhofe, we would not be discussing the bright future this grant promises.”
“Their tireless efforts ensured an increase in funding for the IDeA program, which made the competition possible. The proposal’s key strength is the willingness of sister institutions to work together in the pursuit of research excellence and our success demonstrates what the spirit of cooperation can accomplish for Oklahoma.”