OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Getting from one place to another successfully is something everybody has to figure out, whether it’s something simple like navigating to your lab workspace, or identifying some of the most intricate workings of the human body.

Dr. Sarah Ocanas is still learning all kinds of things about both at her station inside the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

“It’s really a premiere research institution,” she boasts.

For the past few years now, she’s been working with DNA and RNA samples – trying to figure out why Alzheimer’s disease progresses differently in men and women.

“Females have a higher chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease,” says Ocanas, “but men who get it tend to progress to death more quickly.”

But getting here, to this turning point in her career, led to some unique discoveries too.

After getting her undergraduate degree in biology and math in New York, Sarah didn’t start her graduate studies right away.

A detour with Teach for America took her to south Texas as a math teacher for low-income high school students.

“I know,” she chuckles, “I guess it was a super, non-traditional route to get to where I am, but there’s a quote, ‘not all who wander are lost’. I always had in my mind what I wanted that end goal to be.”

Her intense studies continued in math research, but she learned skills as an educator and manager along the way.

She taught for seven years, then came to Oklahoma in pursuit of a PhD.

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Dr. Willard Freeman in the OMRF Genes and Human Diseases Dept. sought her because of what she learned.

“As the head of her own group,” he insists, “her ability to take these really advanced concepts and bring them to the trainees that she’s going to have, is going to be really exciting.”

The path from her old workspace to her own lab is a short walk.

Dr. Ocanas is still waiting on delivery of some equipment, but she’s ready to get to work knowing the journey is every bit as important as the ultimate goal, and that discoveries made along the way are worth noting too.

Find more information about Dr. Ocanas and the NIH Early Independence Award on OMRF’s website.

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