OU Health Sciences Center Earns Record High in Federal, State Grants

Published: Friday, August 28, 2020

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center earned a record high $190 million in federal and state awards during state fiscal year 2020, a milestone that advances research and other strategies to improve health and well-being among Oklahomans.

The total includes $86.3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), considered the gold standard in research funding. The OU Health Sciences Center brings the most NIH funding to Oklahoma through its national centers of excellence, and the total for fiscal year 2020 represents growth of 40% over the previous year. That growth is a testament to the innovative work taking place across all seven colleges on campus, said Vice President for Research James Tomasek, Ph.D.

“Research is a primary mission of the OU Health Sciences Center, with the aim of advancing knowledge and improving the health of the state,” Tomasek said. “As the academic and research partner of OU Medicine, the state’s comprehensive healthcare system, a critical component of our strategic plan is to make research discoveries that lead to new methods of preventing, diagnosing and treating disease.”

Two of the OU Health Sciences Center’s key research areas, cancer and neuroscience/vision, saw a significant increase in grants in fiscal year 2020. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Eye Institute (NEI), two major NIH Institutes, awarded $16.1 million and $10.9 million, respectively, to the OU Health Sciences Center. That represents an increase of 26% percent from the NCI and 62% from NEI over the previous fiscal year. Those grants are used for projects ranging from laboratory science to clinical trials, ultimately improving patient care and outcomes at Stephenson Cancer Center and Dean McGee Eye Institute.

The OU Health Sciences Center also received $8.3 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, an increase of 221% over the previous fiscal year. Much of that research furthers the understanding and treatment of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in children and adults at Harold Hamm Diabetes Center, advancing the search for a cure.

One of the largest NIH grants over the past year was a five-year, $11 million award to create the Oklahoma Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunity, a hub for research into many types of infections and the immune system response, which is critical in facing COVID-19 and other emerging pathogens. This Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (CoBRE) grant establishes multidisciplinary research in Oklahoma and enables talented researchers to compete for additional federal awards.

“This grant is an exciting opportunity because it will allow us to advance our research through collaborations with scientists in other disciplines and other universities,” said Jimmy Ballard, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the OU College of Medicine. “But the grant is also significant because a major component of the program is mentoring junior researchers. They will contribute to better patient treatment with their projects, while building their careers and attracting additional grant funding that helps to drive Oklahoma’s economic growth.”

Many of the NIH grants earned by researchers at the OU Health Sciences Center are made possible by an important local nonprofit organization – the Presbyterian Health Foundation (PHF). Each year, PHF awards millions in grants, which researchers use to further their investigations or purchase crucial equipment they would otherwise be unable to acquire.

“Our partnership with PHF is indicative of the importance of local funding to the process of research,” Tomasek said. “Because of the generosity of entities like PHF, our researchers are able to enhance their investigations and make discoveries that then attract the attention of federal funding sources like the NIH.”

Overall, federal funds awarded to the OU Health Sciences Center increased by 43% over the previous fiscal year. Grants from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) were second behind the NIH in federal awards to the OU Health Sciences Center. In fiscal year 2020, HRSA awarded several multimillion-dollar grants, including one for suicide prevention strategies in Native American and other communities, and another to increase the number of primary care physicians in Oklahoma, particularly in rural, tribal and medically underserved areas.

The majority of OU Health Sciences Center research is conducted on the Oklahoma City campus, with a focus on community health research at the Tulsa campus, and expanding research collaborations across the state. As Oklahoma’s only comprehensive academic health center, the OU Health Sciences Center contributes to innovative patient care that is not available anywhere else in Oklahoma.

“Thanks to the expertise and determination of our researchers, combined with the support of our donors and clinical enterprise, the OU Health Sciences Center has achieved the highest level of NIH funding ever seen in Oklahoma,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Jason Sanders, M.D., MBA. “Through our partnership with the OU Medicine health system, research growth will reach even higher levels across our comprehensive centers of excellence. Our physicians and teams of highly skilled healthcare professionals bring research from the bench to the bedside to the community, giving Oklahomans and our state new options, and new hopes. Our distinctive research assets also accelerate Oklahoma’s economy through private sector investments in new technologies and treatments.”