Dr. Judith James lost countless hours of sleep ensuring that everything was there.
Once the application was ready, she needed a cart to carry the several pounds of paperwork into FedEx.
Almost a year later, that 2-foot high stack of papers turned into a $20.3 million research grant that could help scientists answer some of Oklahoma's most pressing health questions.
James, the lead scientist on the grant, sat Monday alongside Gov. Mary Fallin, University of Oklahoma President David Boren and state health leaders as they announced the federal grant from the National Institutes of Health, a medical research agency that's part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“With the grant from the National Institutes of Health, we'll target our medically underserved populations in our state, especially in our rural areas, which we all care deeply about,” Fallin said. “It will be a five-year grant that will help support potentially lifesaving research in Oklahoma.”
The federal grant was awarded to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in collaboration with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, along with several other institutions across Oklahoma.
Oklahoma ranks No. 43 nationwide in overall health outcomes. The state has long ranked poorly in the rates of residents with health issues such as cancer, diabetes, obesity or heart disease.
The grant will allow for more Oklahoma-based research on these chronic diseases and how they specifically affect Oklahoma's population.
Boren said this grant is the largest National Institutes of Health grant that OU has been involved with. And this year, OU is involved with projects that total about $70 million in grants from NIH, he said.
That's a record — and the year isn't over, he said.
The grant money is a tribute to every person at the Health Sciences Center, OMRF and leaders in state government, he said.
“It shows one thing — when Oklahomans pool their talent, when Oklahomans form partnerships, when Oklahomans work together, nobody anywhere in the United States can stop us,” Boren said. “We're just beginning.”
The grant will provide $4.3 million in its first year and another $4 million per year for four subsequent years.
The money will build Oklahoma researchers' abilities to study issues that have historically low levels of National Institutes of Health funding. The grant supports basic and clinical research, faculty development and program infrastructure.
James, a scientist at OMRF, said the grant will allow them to recruit new scientists and publish patient-oriented research.
“Everything associated with this grant is basically something that directly relates to a patient,” James said. “It's disease-oriented, or ‘How do we prevent disease?' or ‘How do we improve outcomes from disease?'”
The grant will be used to finance pilot projects and help start collaborative projects that focus on issues such as how Oklahoma can improve outcomes for people who have strokes.
The grant will help bring tribal communities and rural communities into the conversation, and more importantly, into what's being researched, James said.
She said some of the most well-known large scientific studies primarily focused on researching white people and how that population was affected.
“There are almost no American Indians that have been studied in those big studies,” James said. “So we don't know if the cardiovascular risk factors are the same in a lot of Oklahomans as what we see for healthy (people) in the Boston area.”