By Jim Stafford
Copyright © (2015) The Oklahoma Publishing Company
STILLWATER — Headquarters of the Oklahoma Center for Respiratory and Infectious Diseases (OCRID) is a humble office deep in the heart of McElroy Hall on the Oklahoma State University campus.
Established in 2013 through an $11.3 million “CoBRE” grant from the National Institutes of Health, OCRID is quickly becoming a focal point for expanding respiratory infectious disease research in Oklahoma. CoBRE stands for Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence.
Liu hopes to build a critical mass of Oklahoma researchers to advance science and technology in the field of respiratory infectious diseases.
I think Liu did something remarkable in winning the giant CoBRE grant. He put together this grant with participation from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation to supplement researchers from OSU.
“Our faculty alone is not big enough for us to go forward,” said Liu. “We had to get a greater mass. I had to reach out to Oklahoma City and Tulsa.”
The statewide consortium meets once a week — by teleconference — to interact and to assess their progress. It also conducts a two-day conference in the spring, which is open to any researcher.
Are respiratory and infectious diseases a dire threat to human health the way that cancer is, for instance?
The answer is yes. According to World Health Organization, in 2004, respiratory infection had a greater global burden of disease than any other condition, including cancers
“In Oklahoma, you probably hear a lot about cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but not many people realize the importance of respiratory infectious diseases,” Liu said. “Our goal is to try to complement what we have found in the state and to sustain the center of excellence in this area to address this public health priority. But the CoBRE grant has also its real value in mentoring the younger faculty, for their success. So that is a core value of this program. We want them to apply for their own NIH grants.”
Born in southwest China, Liu earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1989 at Chinese Academy of Sciences. He did post-doctorate work in University of Pennsylvania before accepting a position at East Carolina State University and coming to Stillwater in 2000.
“After 15 years, I still think I made the right decision to come to Oklahoma,” Liu said.
His specialty is lung biology, and he is author or co-author of many scientific publications. He has two daughters, one a 19-year old student at Rice University.
Liu said he makes frequent visits to China and has been invited by the Chinese National Science Foundation to review grant applications for them.
As for Oklahoma’s CoBRE grant, the center’s next goal is to secure another five-year grant to extend their research.
“The center has really demonstrated statewide collaboration,” Liu said. “I’m really thankful to OSU, OU and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The flu vaccine was only 30 percent effective this year. Normally it’s 50 percent. So there is a major problem with the virus. We are addressing some very, very important problems here. We hope to establish ourselves as a leader in this research area.”
Jim Stafford writes about the state’s life sciences industry on behalf of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association.