The National Institutes of Health has awarded 17 grants worth a total of $14.7 million to OMRF. The grants are part of the $10 billion in economic stimulus funds that will be provided for medical research through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The grants will fund OMRF research on a wide array of illnesses, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, blood disease and cancer. The funds will be paid out over a two-year period and include three new projects as well as supplements to 14 existing research projects. The awards range from $92,000 to more than $4 million.
“This is a big shot in the arm both to OMRF and Oklahoma’s economy,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “These projects will not only advance our knowledge of human disease, but they’ll help create jobs and drive economic activity in our state.”
The largest award, a $4.3 million grant, will enable eight scientists led by OMRF’s Patrick Gaffney, M.D., to expand their research in the genetics of lupus. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses, the immune system, turn against itself.
The grant covers two main projects:
- Comparing lupus-associated genes in European-Americans with those of African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics; and
- Examining those genes using cutting-edge sequencing technology to understand how they are linked to lupus.
“In lupus, several genes work together to make the immune system over-reactive,” said Gaffney. “Our goal is to develop a list of high-quality genetic targets, so we can prove they alter the function of genes that regulate immune responses and lead to autoimmune disease.”
In another project, Courtney Gray-McGuire, Ph.D., secured a $2 million award to study the genetics of sarcoidosis, a rare immune disorder. McGuire’s research will focus on African-Americans, who are nine times more likely to suffer from the disease than Americans of European ancestry.
Sarcoidosis begins in the immune system, causing lumps called granulomas. If multiple granulomas form in an organ, they can cause the organ to malfunction and, in some cases, fail.
“This grant will allow us to perform large-scale genetic screens,” Gray-McGuire said. “When we figure out the genetics, we hope to use that information to find better treatments for the disease.”
The grants, all of which were awarded on a competitive basis, are among the more than 12,000 awards the National Institutes of Health has made nationwide under the ARRA initiative. OMRF still has applications pending for additional projects.
“Funding for medical research has been at a virtual standstill for the last few years, so it’s been difficult for young researchers to get enough money for new and exciting, large-scale studies,” said Gray-McGuire, who is among 1,800 scientists nationwide who is receiving first-time funding through ARRA.
“These grants won’t completely make up for lost time, but they will allow scientists to get to work on the important business of fighting human disease.”