Dr. Robert Floyd: A Thinker and Seeker

Robert Floyd
Dr. Robert Floyd, scientist and author of A Thinker and Seeker

Editor’s Note: During my years as a Business news reporter for The Oklahoman, I had the opportunity to interview Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Robert Floyd, Ph.D., several times. He has since retired and written an autobiography, which I’ve read and written this review.

In the beginning, Robert Floyd, Ph.D., was a farm boy whose family grew tobacco on their Kentucky homestead.

But they couldn’t keep him down on the farm.

Dr. Floyd eventually became a world-renowned bioscientist, and for the last 34 years of his career pursued discoveries of groundbreaking compounds at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

In his autobiography released earlier this year, Dr. Floyd describes the journey that took him from the family farm on Calvary Ridge in central Kentucky to college, then to graduate school and on to post-doc positions. In 1974, he came to Oklahoma City and the OMRF.

I met Dr. Floyd late in his career when I was a life science reporter for The Oklahoman in the early 2000s. I’m pretty sure we first met at a BIO International Conference in San Francisco.

I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Floyd several times over the years and learned about the groundbreaking compounds he discovered in his OMRF laboratory that today are being used to treat deadly brain cancers and hearing loss.

Floyd bookBut I knew nothing about his rural roots and how he came to Oklahoma until he provided me a copy of his autobiography, A Thinker and Seeker: My Journey to Be a Biomedical Scientist, (BrownWalker Press, 364 pages).

In his book, Dr. Floyd separates his journey into three sections, beginning with life on the farm, then his pursuit of higher education and life as a post-doc, concluding with his years as an OMRF scientist.

Dr. Floyd goes deep into Floyd family history and his own experiences growing up on a working Kentucky farm. I even learned from his book how the tobacco leaves are harvested by hand, then cured in a drying barn before being shipped to an auction house.

After a high school education that didn’t serve him especially well, particularly in math skills, Dr. Floyd enrolled at the University of Kentucky. His goal was to become a high school agriculture teacher like his uncle Frank Williams.

But he discovered plant pathology as a UK senior and decided to go to graduate school at Kentucky to pursue a master’s degree in agronomy. From there, he moved to Purdue University, where he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

The next phase of the book follows Dr. Floyd through various post-doc assignments, including one at Washington University in St. Louis, where he worked with Barry Commoner, who was a well known and often times controversial environmentalist.

Dr. Floyd also shares a lot about his personal life, how he met and married his wife, Marlene, the houses they bought and sold along the way, and a couple of harrowing cross-country automobile trips they took as they moved from one assignment to another.

The final section of the book is a year-by-year look at Dr. Floyd’s career at OMRF. We learn how he was hired, the focus of his research and how he became a respected and sought after scientist who traveled and spoke to conferences all over the world.

His laboratory was continually funded through the OMRF years by National Institutes of Health research grants. Eventually, he became an NIH grant reviewer himself who considered grant applications from other scientists throughout the U.S.

Since Dr. Floyd is someone I’ve known professionally for almost 20 years, I read this book with interest. I found the chapter on his family’s history and his life on the farm especially fascinating.

Dr. Floyd’s book, A Thinker and Seeker is available in bookstores, at Amazon.com or through the author himself at rafloyd0753@gmail.com.


A booster shot for the greater good

Booster shot
Waiting to receive COVID-19 ‘booster shot’ this week at Mercy OKC.

When I was a kid, it seemed my mom took me to the doctor every six months or so to get a “booster shot” of some vaccine or another. We never questioned the validity or effectiveness of the vaccines in the early 1960s that I can remember.

Earlier this week, I received the COVID-19 “booster shot” at Mercy Hospital in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that people my age (65-plus) get a third dose when six months have elapsed from their original shots.

I was fully vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine back in January.

My friend Steve asked me recently if I hesitated or had any second thoughts before taking the vaccine. I told him “absolutely not,’ and here’s why:

Although I have no scientific training in my background, I’ve had the opportunity over the past 20 years as a newspaper reporter and writer to visit with dozens of scientific researchers and their labs at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

I’ve learned about the incredible documentation that scientific findings are required to have and how experiments must be repeatable with the same results to be declared valid. Therapeutics designed for humans go through multiple stages of trials for safety and efficacy.

In short, I’ve learned to trust the science.  It is developed in highly controlled processes by people with high intelligence and credibility. These folks have undergone the most rigorous education and training before they tackle their own scientific exploration.

Mercy sign
‘Walk Ins Welcome’

So, I had no second thoughts about walking in to the Mercy vaccination clinic this week and getting the booster. In fact, their sign now reads “walk-ins welcome,” as opposed to January when it was a madhouse of thousands of people turning up to get vaccinated.

I know, I was there.

This time, I was in and out in about 20 minutes, including the 15-minute wait period after I received the dose. I woke up on the day after the booster with a sore arm, but that’s been about the only real impact.

Why did I get the booster so readily? For one, I hope to protect myself from infection of a virus that keeps mutating and making the rounds. But I did it also to be a good citizen who’s helping to put an end to this plague.

I call it doing something for the greater good.

But the decision to get the vaccine or the booster shot isn’t so easy for significant minority of my fellow Oklahomans. They read conspiracy theories about the vaccine or that it was “rushed” or that we don’t know what’s in it.

Can anyone tell me everything that’s in the flu vaccine?

You can read my thoughts on the reasons behind the COVID-19 vaccine resistance in an earlier blog post from a couple of months ago. I stand behind what I wrote.

Times have changed since my mom took me to get my booster shots as a kid in the ’60s. Trust the science.