Four scientists from some of the nation’s leading research institutions have joined the faculty of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The new researchers bring additional strength to OMRF’s research in cancer, genetic disorders and immunology.
Susannah Rankin, Ph.D., and Dean Dawson, Ph.D., come to OMRF from Boston, where Rankin studied cell division in the Systems Biology Department of Harvard Medical School. Dawson was a faculty member of the Department of Molecular Microbiology at Tufts University, where he also served as director of the Genetics Program.
José Alberola-Ila, M.D., Ph.D., and Susan Kovats, Ph.D., both immunologists, join OMRF from institutions in California. Alberola-Ila was an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, while Kovats was a faculty member at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The four researchers come with a combined total of almost $2 million in active research grants. The grants are funded by government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and nonprofits like the March of Dimes.
“These new scientists bring not only strength but depth to OMRF’s research programs,” said OMRF President J. Donald Capra, M.D. “These are accomplished researchers from top-flight institutions, and they will hit the ground running here at OMRF.”
Dawson’s research focuses on the study of chromosome behavior. His work on cellular meiosis (the process of cell division that creates egg and sperm cells) has shed important light on the processes that lead to infertility and birth defects such as Down syndrome. He is also currently studying a class of genes suspected to be involved in causing breast cancer and some types of colon cancer.
Dawson also co-founded and serves on the board of directors at CompleGen, Inc., a Seattle-based biopharmaceutical company that has discovered, developed and patented a powerful process for gene replacement in yeast. CompleGen technology has been used to identify the biochemical function of genes and also isolate genes from difficult to grow organisms.
The Presbyterian Health Foundation provided significant start-up funding to help Dawson establish his laboratory and research program at OMRF.
“OMRF continues to expand its distinguished leadership in biomedical research and translational research,” said Michael D. Anderson, Ph.D., Presbyterian Health Foundation President. “PHF is pleased to support this mission which is accomplished through OMRF’s recruitment of outstanding research scientists.”
Rankin comes to OMRF from one of the world’s leading laboratories on cellular meiosis. At Harvard, she identified a novel gene that is needed to ensure accurate chromosome segregation to newly forming cells. The discovery has important implications for cancer research and treatment, as errors in chromosome segregation are known to play a role in the development of tumors.
With the addition of Alberola-Ila, OMRF has bolstered an immunobiology program that is already among the nation’s finest. Alberola-Ila concentrates on the study of T cells—white blood cells critical to the body’s immune responses. In particular, he investigates how T cells communicate and develop. Understanding these processes is important to the development of treatments for cancers that attack the immune system.
Kovats looks primarily at diseases that disproportionately strike women. Her work examines the role that estrogen plays in immune responses in diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and breast cancer—all diseases that overwhelmingly affect women. She also studies why, in “autoimmune” diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the body mistakenly turns the weapons of its immune system against itself.
“Each of these scientists will complement the work already being done at OMRF,” Capra said. “Their addition represents another important step in building a critical mass of talented, nationally respected medical researchers in Oklahoma.”
Celebrating its 60th birthday in 2006, 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. It is home to Oklahoma’s only member of the National Academy of Sciences