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Great State: “Oklahoma” in Chinese Researcher’s Blood

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA -- He sits in his Oklahoma City office courtesy of a chance phone call.

Dr. Li Jun Xia was a doctoral student in China in the mid-90's when he read a few articles that captured his interest.

His call was to another researcher at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

"Actually," he says. "I had no idea I would stay here for so many years."

Communication was a little difficult at first.

Li Jun didn't know any English.

But he showed up here anyway as a post doctoral researcher studying blood and its many roles in the human body.

While he knew his way around a microscope, Oklahoma was a completely new experience.

Xia had to locate it on a map before he came.

One of the first things he did outside work was chase storms.

He marvelled at the summer heat, and came to appreciate the game of basketball.

He is now a season ticket holder for the Thunder.

"In China it's very popular," says Li Jun. "but not as popular as soccer."

Back in the lab Xia and team specialized in the role of blood platelets which most researchers already knew helped the vascular system stop bleeding.

Li Jun has his own teams of researchers at the OMRF.

Recently, they discovered something new about platelets.

"How this amazing cell helps to safeguard our blood vessels," he explains.

They appear to have another job, acting as a sort of gatekeeper, allowing white blood cells to leave while keeping red blood cells within the vessel.

The paper he published could lead to new treatments for serious infections.

"Especially the small blood vessels," he notes.

There are still some 'Chinese' platelets swimming around Li Jun's bloodstream, kept there by constant tea drinking and a few mementos from the Far East.

But in most other respects Oklahoma forms the better part of his DNA now.

"Is this home," asks a visitor? "Yes," he replies.

Home is a strong pulse, a bouncing basketball, a fickle wind, and the best place for new discoveries.

Li Jun Xia has two children, one of whom was born in Oklahoma.

He calls her his primary English teacher.

Dr. Xia's sister and mother now also live in the U.S.