The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation chose 13 students statewide for its 2015 class of Sir Alexander Fleming Scholars. Oklahoma Baptist University's Jacy O'Dell, a senior biochemistry major from Claremore, Oklahoma, was chosen for the esteemed honor. The students were selected following a competitive statewide application and interview process. Over 100 students applied.
The students are part of the OMRF's 60th class of Sir Alexander Fleming Scholars. They were chosen from a pool of statewide applicants and are spending their summers performing laboratory research at OMRF. Each student will work side-by-side with senior medical researchers on an in-depth, individual research project. At the end of the summer, the students will write scientific papers and present their research results in formal seminars for OMRF's scientific staff.
OBU's O'Dell is excited for the opportunity. "My experience so far has been an extremely positive one. The scientists who work in my lab have been quick to lend a helping hand or show me ways in which I can improve my techniques. I feel that I've been able to make my own discoveries and generate my own research data while still having expert advice close at hand if I run into a problem. The other students have also been friendly and supportive of one another, helping me to stay focused on both my present research goals and my long-term educational aspirations."
O'Dell is researching a naturally occurring organic compound that has been shown to prevent colon cancer in mice. However, no one understands why the compound protects against cancer. "My project is to study which biological systems the compound influences, which I'm accomplishing using zebrafish. Zebrafish are easy to maintain, develop much more quickly than mice and share almost 82 percent of human disease genes, which makes them a prime candidate for functional genetic research. Additionally, zebrafish embryos are completely see-through, which is convenient for observation and monitoring of their developmental processes."
O'Dell is entering her senior year at OBU and will begin work on her senior honors thesis in the fall. Upon graduation, she plans to attend medical school. "My goal is to do research, while also providing medical care for the patients I am assisting through research. I want to obtain a dual M.D. and Ph.D., to allow for both a personal connection in the office and a hard work ethic in the lab, which I find very attractive."
"I want to contribute to the wealth of scientific knowledge that humanity has accumulated, even if it means shedding light on only one tiny part of one tiny question," she said. "The majority of scientific discovery is done slowly and methodically by hundreds of contributing experts who collaborate in order to better understand a specific system or mechanism. If I can provide some piece of knowledge that advances our understanding of how God's creation functions, I will have achieved what I've set out to do."
The Fleming Scholar Program was founded in 1956 as a way to give Oklahoma's high school and college students hands-on biomedical research experience. Since that time, the program has provided more than 500 Oklahoma students with a firsthand look at careers in medical research and medicine. The program is named for Sir Alexander Fleming, the famed British scientist who discovered penicillin. In 1949, Fleming visited Oklahoma City to formally dedicate the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation's first building.
"As Fleming Scholars, these students get a close-up look at what it's really like to do research," said Carlisa Curry, program coordinator. "This experience can tell them early on if they enjoy it and have an aptitude for it. It really helps students find out what research entails."
"This program is intense by any standards, and it takes a lot of determination for young people at this age to give up an entire summer to be a part of it," said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. "But when they're finished, they all agree the payback is incredible."
The 2015 Fleming Scholars, including their hometowns and current schools, include Blake Evans, Shawnee Mission, Kansas, Kansas State University; Jake Gregston, Duncan, Oklahoma, Southwestern Oklahoma State University; David Gutierrez, Woodward, Oklahoma, Northwestern Oklahoma State University; Laura Jardine, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University; Krishna Manohar, Tulsa, University of Oklahoma; Savannah Martin, Duncan, Duncan High School; Kyle McCauley, McAlester, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma; Katie McDonald, Stillwater, Oklahoma, Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics; Jacy O'Dell, Claremore, Oklahoma Baptist University; Jillian Schlecht, Oklahoma City, University of Tulsa; Farris Tedder, Norman, Oklahoma, Norman High School; Michael Thellmann, Edmond, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Christian University; and Eric Wu, Edmond, Edmond North High School.
The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human diseases. Its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease. For more information on OMRF or the Fleming Scholarship, visit www.omrf.org/fleming.