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Oklahoma biomedical researchers receive major grants

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Almost $30 million in research grants was announced Tuesday for Oklahoma medical institutions, including the largest grant ever awarded by the National Institutes of Health to a research facility in the state.

Dozens of researchers and physicians in white jackets applauded as Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, NIH director, formally presented the research grants to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

The federal grants, which will fund research involving cancer as well as the effects of aging and other medical conditions, will help propel Oklahoma's biomedical research community, said Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla.

"Oklahoma City has one of the fastest accelerating medical research programs in the country," said Istook, who was credited by Zerhouni and other physicians with helping secure the grants. "This place is growing. It's making progress."

The research money will also create at least 75 jobs over the next five years and may lead to the creation of new companies to market medical products developed through the research, said Dr. J. Donald Capra, president of OMRF.

OU's rapidly growing health sciences and biomedical research complex in northeast Oklahoma City has a $1.7 billion annual impact on the state's economy, said Dr. Joseph Ferretti, provost of OUHSC.

"This is excellent for public health, and this is excellent for economic development," Istook said.

A five-year, $17.95 million grant to OUHSC is the largest NIH grant ever received to an Oklahoma institution. It was awarded by the NIH's National Center for Research Resources.

It will fund biomedical research in cancer, microbiology and immunology and neurosciences and will involve researchers and students at 14 institutions around the state.

A five-year, $12 million grant for OMRF will fund research into the genetics and molecular mechanisms of lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

The grant was awarded by the NIH's Centers for Biomedical Research Excellence.

Zerhouni said Oklahoma is one of the nation's fastest-growing states in NIH funding and that the growth rate of the its research grants is higher than the growth of the NIH budget.

"Things like this don't happen without visionary leadership," he said. "It's obvious that great strides are being made."

Oklahoma's share of federal medical research dollars increased after Istook introduced legislation requiring NIH to allocate $200 million of its approximately $15 billion budget toward Oklahoma and 25 other states that had been snubbed in medical research dollars.

Last year, Oklahoma received more than $35 million in federal grants through the program, more than any other states.
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