The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation presented scientific awards to four scientists and announced another as an endowed chair during Wednesday’s annual spring board meeting.
Florea Lupu, Ph.D., received the Edward L. & Thelma Gaylord Prize for Scientific Excellence, OMRF’s highest scientific award. Lupu joined OMRF in 2001 and holds the H. Allen and Mary K. Chapman Chair in Medical Research, which focuses on the study of cardiovascular and circulatory diseases and disorders. His lab aims to find a new treatment for sepsis, which kills about 270,000 people per year in the U.S. — more than lung cancer, breast cancer and drug overdoses combined.
The Merrick Award for Outstanding Medical Research was given to Benjamin Miller, Ph.D., an internationally recognized leader in aging research. Miller, a physiologist, seeks to prevent the onset of chronic diseases by slowing the biological process of aging. His current work focuses on whether metformin, the world’s most prescribed diabetes drug, is effective at slowing aging.
Gaurav Varshney, Ph.D., received the J. Donald & Patricia H. Capra Award for Scientific Achievement. Varshney uses revolutionary gene-editing technology to understand human hearing loss, a condition that affects 1 in 6 American adults. Last year, he received NIH funding to study 21 genes believed to be involved in developmental disorders such as hearing loss, autism and schizophrenia.
The Fred Jones Award for Scientific Achievement was presented to Wan Hee Yoon, Ph.D. Yoon uses fruit flies to investigate how disruptions or failures in mitochondria — the driver for energy and metabolism in cells — can lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Last year his research uncovered a rare genetic mutation deemed responsible for neurological disorders in nine children in Europe and the Middle East.
Also at the meeting, Darise Farris, Ph.D., was named the Alvin Chang Chair in Biomedical Research. Farris’ lab studies conditions that range from Sjögren’s disease to bacterial infections such as anthrax. Her focus is the body’s abnormal immune responses in these conditions and how countering those reactions can result in better health outcomes.
“Dr. Farris is internationally recognized for her innovative research on immune responses in health and disease,” said Rod McEver, M.D., OMRF’s vice president of research, who held the Alvin Chang Chair from 2009 to 2020. “She is a highly valued colleague at OMRF and other institutions, and most importantly, she is a dedicated mentor to younger scientists.”