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Presbyterian Health Foundation Awards $3.9 Million in New Research Grants

The Presbyterian Health Foundation has awarded $3.9 million in biomedical research grants to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Pictured left to right: Dr. Darrin Akins, OUHSC's Vice President for Research, with Rick McCune, President of PHF, and Dr. Courtney Griffin, OMRF's Vice President of Research, with Rick McCune.

The funds will support critical equipment needs and studies at OMRF and OUHSC in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, blindness, healthy aging and genetic heart defects. PHF awarded 55 grants in total to the pair of research institutions.


“We are incredibly proud of the top-notch research projects funded this cycle,” said PHF President Rick McCune. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen remarkable health discovery happening at the Oklahoma Health Center campus, all with the aim of improving the quality of healthcare available to all Oklahomans.”


PHF primarily supports the state’s biotechnology, medical research and education organizations, with an emphasis on research and innovation taking place within the Oklahoma Health Center campus in Oklahoma City. Its awards provide critical seed funding for research that bolsters applications for highly competitive federal grants.


In one OMRF study funded in this slate of grants, scientists from three research programs will join forces in a remarkable collaboration to explore a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Immunologist Xiao-Hong Sun, Ph.D., neuroscientist Mike Beckstead, Ph.D., and cardiovascular biologist Audrey Cleuren, Ph.D., will collaborate to assess how a newly identified class of immune cells may alleviate the devastating condition affecting more than 6 million Americans.


“Presbyterian Health Foundation funding enables the development of new models and techniques, as well as the exploration of cross-disciplinary projects like this one,” said Beckstead. “It’s also vital for recruiting top-flight scientists to Oklahoma City, as it allows us to explore innovative avenues and ideas that would otherwise die on the whiteboard for lack of funding.”


Early funding of projects like this one helps investigators obtain the critical data needed to advance their work even further.


“These grants support preliminary experiments that help our scientists justify extremely competitive research grants from the National Institutes of Health,” said OMRF Vice President of Research Courtney Griffin, Ph.D. “We are so appreciative of the trust Presbyterian Health Foundation places in our scientists’ ability to conduct life-changing research.”


One of the funded studies at OUHSC seeks to increase screening for prostate cancer among African American men. The study is led by Jordan Neil, Ph.D., of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the OU College of Medicine and member of the TSET Health Promotion Research Center at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.


Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in African American men and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. In this project, Neil plans to develop and evaluate an app that will improve knowledge of prostate cancer risk and symptoms, as well as provide instructions for completing a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test at home. Greater uptake of the PSA test may reduce the disproportionate burden of prostate cancer among African American men.


“We greatly value the investments PHF has made into our research mission,” said OUHSC Vice President for Research Darrin Akins, Ph.D. “It allows our investigators to generate important data and submit competitive grant applications to national level programs. This funding is essential to enhancing our research capacity and infrastructure as we work toward being in the top tier among all academic health centers in the country.”


PHF grants within Oklahoma now total nearly $215 million since its inception in 1985.

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