OKLAHOMA CITY, — The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has received a five-year, $13.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The award is part of the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, which helps junior scientists establish independent research programs. With funding from the grant, Oklahoma scientists will study a broad range of human diseases, including cancer, abnormal brain development, hearing loss, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Work is also being done to understand aging and regeneration of damaged organs and body parts.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for a group of young and promising researchers,” said OMRF scientist Linda Thompson, Ph.D., who leads the project. “These COBRE funds allow them to be better-staffed and have well-funded experiments. It sets important milestones they have to meet and includes the incredible value of individual mentoring.”

The OMRF researchers whose work will be funded are David Forsthoefel, Ph.D., Gaurav Varshney, Ph.D., Wan Hee Yoon, Ph.D., and Jian Li, Ph.D. University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center researcher Matthew Walters, Ph.D., will receive support.

The junior scientists are all new to Oklahoma, each having established a lab in the past two years following the completion of post-doctoral fellowships at Northwestern University, the National Institutes of Health, Columbia University, the University of Illinois and Baylor College of Medicine.

Although they study different conditions, the scientists share a common interest in the use of novel experimental models. Specifically, they use tiny organisms—zebrafish, flatworms, roundworms and fruit flies—to better understand the root causes and potential therapies for human diseases. Walters is using a novel culture system of human lung cells to study COPD.

"The Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which includes COBRE and other grant programs, aims to provide mentoring, the appropriate infrastructure, and opportunities to form collaborative networks to approach the complex scientific questions we face today," said Yanping Liu, M.D., Ph.D., who oversees COBRE Phase I and Phase II grants at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The new award, which followed a national competition, represents the second round of funding for this particular grant. Five other OMRF scientists benefited from the first round of this COBRE grant, which was initially funded in 2013. All of those researchers have since succeeded in obtaining substantial independent funding for their labs.

“Grants like this are critical, and those who benefit from this program are able to get their research off the ground and flourish,” said Thompson, who holds the Putnam City Schools Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research at OMRF. “We are incredibly proud and grateful to have the opportunity to take this into the next phase.”

Funding for this research is provided by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a part of the National Institutes of Health, under grant number P20GM12345.

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