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Presbyterian Health Foundation awards more than $3.7 million in grants to OUHSC, OMRF

OKLAHOMA CITY, July 17, 2017

By Ryan Stewart, Media Relations Coordinator, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation

The Presbyterian Health Foundation has awarded $3.73 million in new grants to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The grants will support more than 30 research and clinical projects, purchase scientific equipment and provide a recruitment package for a new senior-level researcher.

“As biomedical research grants become exceedingly difficult to receive from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations, it is exciting for Presbyterian Health Foundation to be at the forefront and begin filling that gap,” said PHF President Tom R. Gray, III. “These grants will increase the research dollars going to experienced and emerging scientists at OUHSC and OMRF and will allow Oklahoma researchers to continue their important work. It will also support them as they pursue medical discoveries and future funding opportunities.”

Grants were awarded in categories that included seed projects, bridge funding, scientific equipment and recruiting assistance.

Researchers at OUHSC received $2.65 million in PHF funds to advance discoveries in a variety of initiatives in cancer, stroke, obesity, aging and heart disease, including purchases of specialized laboratory equipment. Grants were awarded to senior-level scientists and clinicians, often collaborating in teams, including a focus on early career faculty.

One project focuses on communication among nerve cells in the aging brain, as well as information processing and memory function in the nervous system. Researchers hope to develop new ways to achieve progress in early diagnosis and effective treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

In another, scientists will seek to understand why a patient’s immune system appears to fail when it encounters the strain of Clostridium difficile that produces the most virulent toxins. The Clostridium difficile bacterium is the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections and the 16th highest cause of death in people over 65.

“Investments from PHF tremendously accelerate and enhance our OUHSC research programs,” said Jason Sanders, M.D., M.B.A., senior vice president and provost at OUHSC. “The funding is vital in helping our researchers take their investigations to the next stage of discovery.

OMRF researchers will benefit from $1,086,267 in grant awards to support research projects in areas that include autoimmune illness, retinal disease, cancer and age-related muscle loss. A PHF grant will also help provide funds for a new scientist whose work focuses on neurodegenerative diseases

Michael Beckstead, Ph.D., will join OMRF in September from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He studies the role that dopamine neurons play in Parkinson’s disease and drug addiction, with a goal of finding new ways to treat both conditions.

With new grants from PHF, three other OMRF scientists will use the funding for a groundbreaking gene-editing technique known as CRISPR. This will enable the OMRF researchers to do further studies related to blood vessel formation, lymphedema and heart disease.

“Funding of this type provides a huge boost to OMRF’s research efforts,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Many research projects hold great promise but lack the resources needed to succeed. When local champions like Presbyterian Health Foundation step in to support that work, it opens many exciting new doors.”

Since 1985, PHF has awarded grants totaling more than $160 million. This latest round of grants continues PHF’s commitment to investing in local biomedical research, said Gray. “The funding will help continue to foster an environment in our state where scientists can pursue innovative research—work that, we hope, will ultimately lead to new therapies for debilitating diseases.”

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Photos of Tom Gray, III, Jason Sanders, M.D., M.B.A., and Stephen Prescott, M.D., available for download:


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