OMRF immunologist Joan Merrill, M.D.

The National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services have awarded the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation three new grants totaling $5.7 million.
The federal grants span from two to five years and will support the work of a pair of OMRF scientists who are investigating different aspects of autoimmune disease: Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., and Joan Merrill, M.D.
In autoimmune disease, the body mistakenly turns its immune system against itself. Researchers have identified more than 80 autoimmune illnesses, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Together, these conditions affect as many as 23.5 million Americans.
“There’s a profound need to improve our understanding and treatment of autoimmune diseases,” said James, who also serves as OMRF’s Vice President of Clinical Affairs. “By integrating laboratory studies with patient-oriented research, we hope to accelerate the process of delivering better and more effective care to patients.”
Designated by the NIH as one of only 10 Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence in the U.S., OMRF has long been recognized as a world leader in autoimmune disease research and treatment. OMRF’s clinics provide comprehensive care for patients living with these illnesses, and the foundation’s scientists have played a role in identifying 65 of the 101 known genes for lupus.
The new awards are:
* A $4.37 million grant to James to better understand autoimmune illnesses characterized by pain in the muscles and joints. The project, called the Oklahoma Rheumatic Disease Resources Core Center, will provide resources to help scientists investigate and uncover potential treatments for diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The project is supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases under award number P30 AR073750.
* A $1 million award to Merrill to improve recruitment of minority patients to clinical trials of new therapies for lupus.
* A $350,000 grant to Merrill to study the impact of common lupus treatments on the degree to which specific genes are making blueprints (RNA) for proteins that regulate the immune system. This will allow better selection of therapies for individual lupus patients based on their underlying immune profiles.
Funding for these projects will be provided by grants from the Dept. of Defense/U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity (W81XWH-18-1-0693), and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (CPIMP181167).
“OMRF researchers have consistently been at the forefront of research on autoimmune diseases,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “With this new round of grants, they’ll lay the groundwork for the next generation of breakthroughs.”