An Ada native who once swept warehouses while going to college has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the American Heart Association to conduct cellular research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Corey Johnson, Ph.D., has received the Heartland Affiliate Postdoctoral Fellowship. Nationwide, only 23 fellowships were given out last year. The award is valued up to $132,000 over a three-year period. His research is being conducted in the laboratory of William Rodgers, Ph.D., a scientist in OMRF’s Molecular Immunogenetics Research Program.
“This is a very competitive award, especially as funding issues have lowered the number of fellowships awarded,” Rodgers said. “Corey works at the crossroads of cell biology and immunology, making his work appealing to a very broad group of scientists.”
Johnson’s study of T cells – a type of white blood cell important to the immune system – is most directly related to viral infection and autoimmune disease. But his work could have widespread applicability for heart disease, particularly as he studies the participation of lipids in cells that are essential for efficient cardiac function.
Originally from Ada, Johnson received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from East Central University. While in school, he spent hours each week sweeping warehouses at his local electrical cooperative. An opportunity came along for him to work with Kerr Lab in Ada, and he left the warehouses behind. “The lab was a great part-time job, and I enjoyed the science and the challenge and diversity,” Johnson said. “But I also learned at Kerr Lab that I wasn’t as interested in environmental chemistry as I was biochemistry.”
Johnson took the lone biochemistry course then offered at ECU, but that didn’t satisfy his interest. He enrolled in graduate school at the University of Oklahoma with his studies centering on protein biochemistry with an emphasis on enzyme kinetics. After earning his Ph.D., he joined OMRF’s scientific staff in October 2004 to learn more about molecular and cell biology and its application on the study of disease.
“I think we do very interesting and important work here, and I have learned a great deal in the short amount of time I’ve been here,” he said. “OMRF and the American Heart Association have provided me a great opportunity with this fellowship to hopefully make significant contributions toward many diseases.”
Chartered in 1946, OMRF (www.omrf.org) is one of the nation’s oldest, most respected biomedical research institutes. Dedicated to understanding and curing human disease, the nonprofit institute focuses 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.