Two years ago, OMRF embarked on an ambitious recruiting campaign. The goal: to bring in a new generation of scientists to lead the foundation as it expands.
Since that time, OMRF has recruited eight new principal investigators in anticipation of completing its new 186,000-square-foot research tower. But even though OMRF’s new labs will not open until next year, the new generation of OMRF scientists have already made a major impact both on Oklahoma’s economy and in the scientific world.
The eight new scientists have already secured $11.57 million in grants since coming to OMRF. Those funds, the majority of which are awards from the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC, support research on obesity, cancer, heart disease, lupus and other illnesses.
“These are out-of-state dollars that flow into Oklahoma and create jobs for laboratory technicians, graduate students and assisting scientists,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “And the research they’re doing has already opened new windows into a number of life-threatening and debilitating conditions.”
Hong Chen, Ph.D., who joined OMRF from Yale University in 2008, has authored seven scientific papers since coming to the foundation. Those studies have cast light on the growth of blood vessels, a key process in both cancer and heart disease. In research recently published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she was part of a team that identified a gene linked to the creation of blood vessels in prostate cancer.
“We’re hopeful this research will help us predict and diagnose cancer faster, so we can reduce the number of deaths,” said Chen. “There’s also the possibility of a therapeutic, which would keep the blood vessels from forming, causing the cancer to ‘starve’ and die.”
Courtney Gray Montgomery, Ph.D., has been lead or senior author on four papers exploring the genetics of human disease since coming to OMRF from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland in 2008. She has also identified a cluster of three genes associated with early-onset colon cancer in families.
Last year, Montgomery won a $2 million grant to study the genetics of sarcoidosis, a rare immune disorder. The research focuses on African-Americans, who are nine times more likely to suffer from the disease than Americans of European ancestry.
According to Montgomery, OMRF’s collaborative culture distinguishes it from other research institutions. “Not only have I been able to form relationships with other OMRF investigators, but I have been able to chat about grants management and the research goals of the institution over dinner with the president. Coming here has been a breath of fresh air.”
The eight new researchers represent the first wave of an effort that will add 30 principal scientists to OMRF’s faculty. Recruitment efforts are ongoing, with at least two new scientists expected to join OMRF before year-end.
“We’ve already seen incredible productivity from a small group of researchers who are still in the early phases of their careers,” said Prescott. “It’s exciting to imagine what’s to come.”
OMRF’s “next generation” includes:
- Marta Alarcon, M.D., Ph.D. – joined OMRF in 2009 from Uppsala Univ. (Sweden)
- Jana Barlic, Ph.D, – joined OMRF in 2008 from the Imperial College of Medicine (London)
- Hong Chen, Ph.D., – joined OMRF in 2008 from Yale University
- Courtney Griffin, Ph.D., – joined OMRF in 2008 from the Univ. of North Carolina
- Tim Griffin, Ph.D., – joined OMRF in 2008 from Duke Univ.
- Mike Kinter, Ph.D., – joined OMRF in 2008 from the Cleveland Clinic
- Courtney Montgomery, Ph.D., – joined OMRF in 2008 from Case Western Reserve Univ.
- Roberto Pezza, Ph.D., – joined OMRF in 2009 from the National Institutes of Health