Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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OKLAHOMA MEDICAL RESEARCH FOUNDATION

In 1944 the Alumni Association of the University of Oklahoma Medical School began to develop an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), a private, nonprofit, independent research institution in Oklahoma City. James W. Finch, M.D., John H. Lamb, M.D., and Mark R. Everett, Ph.D., were among the facility's first promoters. They and others signed the incorporation document on August 3, 1946. Beginning in April 1947 Gov. Roy J. Turner worked as the general chair of a statewide fund drive. On July 3, 1949, Sir Alexander Fleming, the British scientist who discovered penicillin, gave the keynote address at the dedication. The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation building at 825 Northeast Thirteenth in Oklahoma City was completed in 1950 and became a part of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. That same year Dr. Edward C. Reifenstein, Jr., a New York native, was selected as the first director. Dr. William G. Thurman served as director between 1979 and 1997.

Many prominent Oklahomans helped establish and support the foundation throughout its history. Early advocates included University of Oklahoma President George L. Cross, who served on the board from 1946 to 1998. Oklahoma City attorney Roy C. Lytle, one of the incorporators was a board member from 1946 to 1982. J. G. Puterbaugh, president of McAlester Fuels, served as OMRF president from 1947 to 1950 and was an active board member from 1950 to 1965. John Rogers, Tulsa attorney, was president from 1954 to 1970 and active in initial fund raising and board service. Hugh G. Payne, Sr., the foundation's general manager from 1947 to 1964, encouraged many Oklahomans to become involved with supporting medical research.

In more than fifty years of existence the foundation has focused on hiring high-quality researchers working with the molecular basis of disease. Scientists at OMRF are recognized nationally and internationally for their research in the areas of aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, immunology and Alzheimer's research. Researchers have made significant contributions to biomedical research and treatment knowledge such as the development of a drug to treat sepsis and the isolation of limitin, which limits tumor cell growth, from bone marrow cells. OMRF's core facilities and equipment are available to researchers throughout Oklahoma. Since 1956 OMRF has encouraged young Oklahomans to work in science by sponsoring Fleming Scholarships for high school and college students. The foundation has also worked with high school science teachers to develop projects that can be used to instruct students in schools' classrooms and laboratories.

In the 1990s OMRF staff of approximately four hundred employees included seventy research scientists and had net assets in excess of $164 million. In October 1996 the foundation celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. In September 1997 Dr. J. Donald Capra became director as well as head of a new molecular immunogenetics department. At the turn of the twenty-first century OMRF continued to fulfill its original purpose, that "more may live longer, healthier lives," through funding received from private donations and federal research grants.

SEE ALSO: FRONTIERS OF SCIENCE FOUNDATION OF OKLAHOMA, MEDICAL EDUCATION.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mark R. Everett, Pioneering for Research: Origin of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Medical Center, 1966). "Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. W. Landon Young, Oklahoma's Hidden Treasure: The Story of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, 1946-1998 (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, 1998).

Beth Mikkola

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