As OMRF prepares for a major expansion, it is adding a new research program that will focus on studying and treating patients with autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as understanding how people respond to infections or vaccinations.
The Clinical Immunology Research Program will be headed by Judith James, M.D., Ph.D. The new program is part of a larger initiative at OMRF to increase translational research—work that focuses on transforming discoveries in the laboratory into new diagnostics and treatment for human disease.
“Everything that we study will be patient-oriented,” said James. “This new program will be a wonderful opportunity for us to expand translational research at OMRF and in Oklahoma.”
James, a native of Pond Creek, Okla., earned her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Oklahoma. She joined OMRF’s scientific staff in 1994 and holds the Lou C. Kerr Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF.
James’ research on lupus and other autoimmune diseases—conditions in which the body turns its own defenses against itself—has earned her numerous national honors, including the 2007 Edmund L. Dubois Memorial Achievement Award from the American College of Rheumatology. In 2000, then-President Clinton bestowed the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers on James, making her the only Oklahoman ever so honored.
Using an in-house clinic, doctors in OMRF’s Clinical Immunology Research Program will treat and monitor patients to learn how diseases progress over time. By studying how patients either stay healthy or deal with disease progression, James said she hopes to find out what causes a decline in health and how to intervene to keep patients on the right track.
While the program will initially study and treat infectious and autoimmune diseases, James expects that, over time, the program’s focus may expand to include other chronic diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The program will also have special interests in understanding and improving Oklahoma American Indian health.
“Oklahoma is already considered one of the top sites in the world for lupus research,” she said. “We have everything from clinical trials to patient-oriented research to genetics to cell function studies. This gives us an opportunity to expand those types of research into additional areas, such as vaccine responses, infectious processes and other types of autoimmunity.” James has already begun recruiting new research scientists and clinicians to join the program.
“Clinical immunology is one of the key emerging disciplines in the world of biomedical research,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Dr. Judith James has already established herself as one of the leaders in the field. I’m confident that under her guidance, our scientists and physicians will deliver state-of-the-art care and treatment to patients while solving the puzzles of human disease.”
OMRF (omrf.org) is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human disease. Chartered in 1946, its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease.