John Saxon, M.D., always knew he wanted to do something for OMRF. Likewise, it had long been in the Muskogee physician’s plans to find a way to memorialize his late father, a West Point graduate who taught for five years at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was a career Air Force pilot.
With a gift of $250,000, Saxon established the John H. Saxon Service Academy Summer Research Program at OMRF. Through this initiative, which bears his father’s name, students come each summer from the U.S. military academies to OMRF to work side-by-side with senior scientists.
“Some people may not think of basic science and the military as linked,” said Saxon, a member of OMRF’s board of directors. “But I thought I could use OMRF’s work as an opportunity to stimulate some basic bench science interest with cadets at military academies.”
Now in its fourth year, the program each summer welcomes cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. This year, those students will be David Hoang of Oklahoma City and Max Barnes of Hayward, Wis.
Hoang graduated from the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics and now is a sophomore at the U.S. Naval Academy. His project at OMRF, where he has worked with Tim Griffin, Ph.D., focuses on identifying connections between obesity and arthritis in the joints.
The experience, Hoang said, has allowed him to apply his science background, which has been a big asset as he prepares to apply to medical school. “Arthritis and obesity are two growing epidemics in America, and I am learning a lot about both of them in Dr. Griffin’s lab.”
Barnes, a senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy, studied factors that affect inflammation of arteries in atherosclerosis, a condition caused by buildup of plaque in the arteries.
“I wake up every day excited for the challenge I find in the lab,” Barnes said. “My project is something that has never been investigated, which is exciting. This has been valuable experience for me, and I’ve learned so much about the cell and the different processes within it.”
Barnes also plans to apply for medical school next year to become a physician with the Air Force. “I came here to get a feel for what medical research is like. It has definitely taught me the importance of patience, and I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”
The Saxon Program represents the newest addition to OMRF’s educational initiatives. Since 1956, OMRF has trained 500 of Oklahoma’s most talented high school and college students through the Sir Alexander Fleming Scholar Program. And more than 800 advanced-degree students have been educated at OMRF through graduate student scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships.
“The Saxon Program is a great way for us to keep expanding OMRF’s educational platforms,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “We’re grateful to Dr. Saxon for helping us join with Annapolis and the Air Force Academy to educate tomorrow’s physicians and researchers.”