For Oklahoma native and Harvard faculty member Scott Armstrong, M.D., Ph.D., returning to OMRF was like coming home.
Today, Armstrong presented a lecture to the faculty of OMRF about his research on leukemia. It was a speech that had been more than two decades in the making.
An associate professor at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Cancer Program, Armstrong got his first taste of biomedical research in the summer of 1986 in OMRF’s Fleming Scholar program. The program gives Oklahoma students an up-close look at medical research, allowing them to spend a summer in OMRF’s labs working alongside senior researchers.
“That was my first experience in a biomedical lab and it made a huge impact on my life,” said Armstrong. “Until that time I had planned to go to medical school but had never considered biomedical research as a potential career. The Fleming Scholar experience opened my eyes to the excitement and importance of basic research.”
A 1985 graduate of Duncan High School, Armstrong went on to get both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. Now he splits his time between laboratory research and caring for pediatric cancer patients, specializing in leukemia.
“Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer,” he said. “Early in my training as a pediatric oncologist, I saw patients die of leukemia and the experience convinced me to try to figure out what is going on with this disease.”
One potential avenue for treatment is in adult stem cells, he said. These cells, which Armstrong studies in his lab, have already been used for bone marrow transplants. In recent years, adult stem cells have been identified for many other tissues, including for the heart, brain and muscles, to mention a few.
“While there are still hurdles to be jumped in terms of delivering these cells to the correct place, it is not unreasonable to believe these cells will be used to regenerate damaged organs and tissues in the not too distant future,” he said.
Adult stem cells can be taken from bone marrow in adults and are different from embryonic stem cells. OMRF does not perform research involving embryonic stem cells.
Armstrong is one of almost 500 Oklahoma students to graduate from OMRF’s Fleming Scholar program. Nearly half have gone on to become scientists and physicians.
Applications for the 2010 Fleming Scholar program are still available. The application deadline is Feb. 1, and forms are available atwww.omrf.org/fleming.