Hundreds of students, faculty and visitors filled a multi-purpose room on the WSU Spokane campus for the annual Inland Northwest Research Symposium last week. Health sciences students at WSU Spokane and EWU Spokane, as well as students from North Central High School’s Institute of Science and Technology, showcased their work.
The symposium also featured two keynote speakers – Elissa Schwartz from WSU’s School of Biological Sciences, and Yvette Roubideaux, the Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership Clinical Professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
Schwartz talked about the infamous 2009 swine flu outbreak in Pullman, where more than 2,000 students reported swine flu symptoms to the student health center. The swine flu virus was already impacting much of the world, and Pullman was hit especially hard.
Pullman’s remote, rural location and its abundance of close living quarters (dorms, apartments, etc.) made it feel like an island when the outbreak occurred, Schwartz said. Pullman is geographically contained, much like an island.
Schwartz didn’t study the virus, but rather used compartmental modeling to find the best strategy for prevention in possible future cases. Her work can also be used by other communities with similar characteristics as Pullman.
Her findings showed that vaccination would have been the best intervention strategy. Isolation and quarantine were also good strategies, based on the population and living arrangements most make in Pullman.
In this case, it was implementing diabetes prevention programs in American Indian communities based on research that showed it is possible to prevent diabetes.
In 2002, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stopped its large Diabetes Prevention Program trial in 25 centers around the country (including three American Indian centers) because the study showed amazing results. The research question was “can you prevent type 2 diabetes in people at risk for diabetes?” and the study showed that by implementing a 16-week lifestyle curriculum, you could reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent. The curriculum incorporated education on healthy eating habits, exercise and more.
Dr. Roubideaux explained how this research led to an increase in funding for the Indian Health Service’s Special Diabetes Program for Indians in 2004 to implement a similar program in 36 American Indian and Alaska Native communities. She co-directed the coordinating center for this initiative that translated the NIH research results into real world American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and the evaluation found similar positive results in preventing new cases of diabetes.
The success of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians Diabetes Prevention Program was due to its collaborative approach, culturally appropriate strategies, and was an example of how research can lead to policy and practice that can improve the health and lives of people at risk for diabetes.
For the more than 100 students in the audience, they got a glimpse into how different research methods can be used to prepare for future problems (the swine flu study) and how research can be used to enact policy change (the diabetes study).