At its spring board meeting and honors celebration on Wednesday, OMRF awarded scientific prizes to seven scientists and named Oklahoma City’s Judy Hatfield to its board of directors.
Swapan Nath, Ph.D., became the 19th recipient of the Edward L. and Thelma Gaylord Prize for Scientific Excellence, OMRF’s highest scientific award. It is named for the late Edward L. Gaylord, who was a 30-year OMRF board member, and his late wife, Thelma.
Nath received the award for his pioneering work on lupus, an autoimmune disease that impacts more than 5 million people worldwide. He led an international coalition of researchers that identified 10 new genes associated with lupus, which was featured in earlier this year in the scientific journal Nature Genetics.
The findings mark a significant advance in the knowledge base for lupus genes, which is critical for understanding the disease because of its strong genetic base. Nath joined OMRF’s scientific staff in 2000 and is a member in OMRF’s Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program.
“Dr. Nath’s work has added significant new information to what we know about the genetics of lupus,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “This disease impacts many lives, and the more we can learn about its genetic origins, the better we can treat it.”
OMRF also welcomed Judy Hatfield to its Board of Directors. Hatfield is president and CEO of Equity Commercial Realty, LLC, in Oklahoma City. She has served as vice president of two financial institutions, was a visiting professor in the University of Oklahoma’s School of Business and president of a public relations firm before taking on her current role in 1985.
Hatfield has earned a bevy of awards over the course of her career, including the Neal Horton Award for her role in the renaissance of an area in downtown Oklahoma City and the History Maker Award from the Metropolitan Better Living Center in 2015.
“Judy brings a wide array of expertise to our board,” said Prescott. “She has a passion for health and will be a great representative for OMRF in the community.”
Also at the meeting, OMRF presented the following awards to foundation researchers:
Lijun Xia, M.D., Ph.D., received the Merrick Award for Outstanding Medical Research. In the lab, his work on sugars known as O-glycans has revealed answers about the causes of fatty liver disease, a condition that affects as much as one-quarter of the world’s population and can lead to inflammation, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Xia joined OMRF’s scientific staff in 2002 and holds the Merrick Foundation Chair in Biomedical Research.
Christopher Lessard, Ph.D., was given the J. Donald and Patricia H. Capra Award for Scientific Achievement. Lessard studies the genetics of lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome, with a focus on identifying new biomarkers for the development of therapies that will improve the lives of those affected by autoimmune disorders.
Two Fred Jones Awards for Scientific Achievement were presented: one to Robert Axtell, Ph.D., and another to Timothy Griffin, Ph.D. Axtell uses laboratory models and patient samples from OMRF’s Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence to understand why MS behaves differently from other autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Griffin studies how obesity contributes to the development of osteoarthritis by examining how changes in joint pressure and excess fat contribute to inflammation.
OMRF also named Holly Van Remmen, Ph.D., the G.T. Blankenship Chair in Aging Research. Van Remmen studies sarcopenia, a disease of aging in which the body loses skeletal muscle mass. She joined OMRF’s scientific staff in 2013 and also serves as co-director of the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Biology of Aging.
Regis Meyer, Ph.D., received the William G. Thurman Award for Outstanding Research Assistant Member. Meyer, who came to OMRF from France in 2007, is an authority on mechanisms that regulate the distribution of chromosomes during cell division.