The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation this week welcomed U.S. Reps. Stephanie Bice (OK-05) and Frank Lucas (OK-03) for updates on work at the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit biomedical research institute.
Bice and Lucas met with OMRF President Andrew S. Weyrich, Ph.D., and scientists from three of the foundation’s research programs.
Bice received a briefing on Covid-19 research from OMRF Vice President of Clinical Affairs Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., who leads a team of scientists studying the body’s immune response to Covid-19 and whether the virus may trigger autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. James is also the lead investigator on a nationwide National Institutes of Health-funded trial to assess how to elicit a stronger immune response to the Covid-19 vaccine in people with certain autoimmune diseases who did not respond well to an original vaccine regimen.
“Federal funding for biomedical research is vital,” said Bice, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “I’m proud that OMRF is part of my district. The cutting-edge work scientists are doing here is inspiring and impacts not just Oklahomans, but all Americans.”
Lucas met with OMRF researchers Michael Beckstead, Ph.D., who is studying the role of the naturally occurring brain chemical dopamine in opioid addiction, and Courtney Griffin, Ph.D., whose work on blood vessels shows promise for restoring vision in those who have lost eyesight due to diabetes or premature birth.
A champion of ensuring rural students get access to quality science, technology, engineering and math education to bolster their career opportunities, Lucas applauded OMRF’s efforts to train the next generation of scientists through in-state recruitment as well as in the foundation’s Fleming Scholar Program and Langston University Biomedical Research Scholars Program.
“Basic research like what scientists are doing at OMRF is fundamental to advances in human health, but it requires a strong STEM workforce,” said Lucas, the ranking member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. “OMRF plays an important role in making careers in STEM a reality for Oklahomans.”
OMRF, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, has nearly 500 staff members and scientists in more than 50 labs studying cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and diseases of aging. The foundation’s discoveries have yielded hundreds of patents and three life-saving drugs available in hospitals and clinics worldwide. Most recently, Adakveo became the first targeted therapy approved in the U.S. for sickle cell disease, which affects an estimated 100,000 Americans.
“The Oklahoma congressional delegation’s commitment to biomedical research is steadfast and admirable,” said Weyrich. “Their decades of support for OMRF’s scientists and our mission of making discoveries that make a difference has changed and saved lives.”