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Health kick

More than $20 million in federal grant money will help fund research and education programs across Oklahoma “immediately,” leaders say.

Tim Farley October 2nd, 2013

A $20.3 million federal grant announced last week will help state medical professionals combine clinical data with ongoing scientific research in hopes of discovering new treatments for a multitude of diseases.

Grant funds will create the Oklahoma Shared Clinical and Translational Resources program, which develops partnerships between the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), Native American tribes and physicians across the state.

“This gives us access to people and data immediately,” said Courtney Montgomery, Ph.D, an associate member of the Arthritis & Clinical Immunology Research Program at OMRF. “We’ll be taking actual clinical findings and putting it with lab results to develop better intervention and prevention strategies.”

By forming a major coalition of health researchers and practitioners, many of the delays once known to the medical community will be eliminated.

OU President and former Oklahoma governor David Boren (pictured) called the grant a move from the “bench to the bedside,” in a statement last week. Funds will help study everything from heart disease, lupus, diabetes, cancer and more.

Cutting red tape
“The red tape is gone,” Montgomery said. “Things that used to take months before will only take days now. We have the facilities and research to make it easy. We can now take a discovery in the lab and relate it to the people with the diseases.”

For instance, lab research results might lead investigators to discover that a specific gene is causing Native American women between the ages of 40 and 50 to suffer from arthritis. With that information in hand, project coordinators can comb patient files for people who fit that particular profile.

“It is another example of our goal to move research from the bench to the bedside to help improve healthcare for all the people of our state,” OU President David Boren said in a statement during a Sept. 23 press conference.

Dr. Stephen M. Prescott, OMRF president, said the real winners of the new collaborative effort are patients suffering from health conditions such as heart disease, cancer or lupus. “Tomorrow, they’ll get the solutions to their problems,” he said.

The collaboration between researchers and physicians hasn’t always been there because there was no specific conduit of funding mechanism to connect the two groups, officials said.

“We believe this effort provides us the clinical and translational research infrastructure to foster new clinically relevant discoveries and to translate findings into improved health outcomes for citizens everywhere,” Prescott said.

The five-year federal grant provides $4.3 million in its first year and another $4 million per year for the next four years.

Gov. Mary Fallin attended the press conference and urged state health officials to help Oklahomans improve their health outcomes.

Once ranked next to last in the country in connection with specific health indicators such as smoking and obesity, Oklahoma has jumped six spots to No. 43.

Yet, the challenges have not disappeared, Fallin said during her remarks.

“Our goal is for Oklahomans to live longer, healthier and happier lives,” she said.

According to the 2012 United Health Foundation’s state-by-state rankings, Oklahoma is 48th in cardiovascular disease deaths, 43rd in the number of diabetes cases and 45th for the number of patients suffering from obesity.

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