Here’s a question from a reader: How has the coronavirus affected research operations at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
As cases of COVID-19 surged, OMRF suspended most biomedical research. That reduced our onsite staff to only our “skeleton crew,” a dedicated team who are keeping the heart of OMRF beating while the pandemic runs its course.
Those essential onsite personnel are:
• Researchers and lab technicians who keep cell lines alive;
• Comparative medicine staff who feed and care for experimental mice and fish;
• Facilities crews who make sure all mechanical systems continue to function;
• Housekeeping staff to disinfect and clean; and
• Healthcare providers and staff in OMRF’s two clinics who continue to treat patients suffering from life-threatening autoimmune diseases.
Meanwhile, when Gov. Kevin Stitt authorized the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center to set up an emergency COVID-19 testing facility to increase the state’s testing capacity, OMRF scientists immediately joined the effort. Led by Dr. Joel Guthridge, a team of OMRF scientists has temporarily relocated to OU Medicine, operating a high-speed RNA processing system OMRF has moved there temporarily to help accelerate testing.
When fully operational, we hope the facility will be able to process up to several thousand tests a day. The sooner we can get our arms around the true magnitude of this health crisis, the better we’ll be able to fight it.
While they work remotely, OMRF scientists are now submitting a series of research proposals to the National Institutes of Health that would fund COVID-19 research.
Those projects are aimed at better understanding the immune system’s response to SARS-CoV-2, the technical name for the virus that causes COVID-19. Using a unique method created by OMRF scientists, they’re also exploring the production of protective proteins known as monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
Finally, OMRF is in discussions to help analyze the results of clinical trials for a potential vaccine. Led by Dr. Judith James, OMRF scientists will aim to help decipher what makes a protective response to the vaccine, determine which vaccines generate the fastest protective responses, and process and store samples from trial participants.
When this wave of the pandemic recedes, our scientists will be ready. To a list of disease targets that now includes cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and lupus, we’ll add COVID-19.
As quickly as we put our labs to sleep, we’ll wake them up. Armed with new ideas and a renewed sense of purpose, we’ll pick up right where we left off.
We owe that to the people struggling with life-threatening diseases. They can’t afford to wait, and neither can we.