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WSU researchers to close gaps in Alzheimer’s disease research

Image shows a model of a brain and neuron

Researchers at Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane will spend the next three years conducting research aimed at improving brain health in older adults, thanks to nearly $500,000 in grants funded by the Alzheimer’s Association.

The three grants awarded to WSU will support three research projects that will close gaps in Alzheimer’s disease research while addressing inequities in Alzheimer’s disease risk and treatment in U.S. Native populations.

Estimates say that as many as one in three Native American elders will develop Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and the number of American Indian/Alaska Native people aged 65 and older living with dementia is expected to quadruple by 2060. Meanwhile, lack of representation in research studies and barriers to Alzheimer’s and dementia care are hampering efforts to reduce or eliminate Alzheimer’s-related disparities in this population.

Portrait photo of Anna Zamora KapoorAs part of her research on health disparities and race and ethnicity, Anna Zamora-Kapoor will conduct a study on the link between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—a disorder that causes the airway to collapse during sleep and disrupts normal breathing—and cognitive performance in American Indians. An assistant professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and a researcher in the WSU Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), Zamora-Kapoor has received a $150,000 Alzheimer’s Association award for the project.

One in three men and one in six women over the age of 50 suffer from OSA, and recent research has suggested that OSA increases the risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Obesity is the strongest risk factor for OSA, and while American Indians have the highest obesity rates in the country, they are underrepresented in OSA research studies,” Zamora-Kapoor said.

To address this gap, she will conduct an analysis of data from three previously conducted, federally funded studies on cerebrovascular disease in American Indians, sleep-disordered breathing, and health-related risk behaviors.

Portrait image of Lexie JacksonAnother $174,034 in funding goes to IREACH scientist and College of Medicine postdoctoral research associate Lexie Jackson, whose project focuses on tailoring an online intervention to caregivers of Native Hawaiian adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. To that end, Jackson and her team will adapt the intervention—known as Tele-Savvy—to include Native Hawaiian cultural values. They will evaluate the effectiveness of the adapted intervention in a pilot test of 50 caregivers of Native Hawaiian adults living with Alzheimer’s or related dementias in the Pacific Northwest.

The final Alzheimer’s Association grant funds a study into how type 1 diabetes might heighten the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Portrait image of Luciana Mascarenhas Fonseca“There is some evidence suggesting that older adults with type 1 diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” said Luciana Mascarenhas Fonseca, the study’s principal investigator and a postdoctoral research associate in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. “However, we don’t yet know what factors or underlying neurobiology might contribute to that elevated risk, which is what this study seeks to identify,”

The $173,906 Alzheimer’s Association grant allows her to add cognition assessment, risk factor analysis, and blood sample collection to an ongoing study of middle-aged and older adults with type 1 diabetes led by College of Medicine associate professor Naomi Chaytor. Mascarenhas Fonseca will analyze the collected study data to examine the relationships between cognitive variability, Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers in blood plasma, and vascular risk factors related to type 1 diabetes.

“These projects will help advance research that will address the disproportionate burden of Alzheimer’s and dementia on diverse and underserved populations, promote the use of lifestyle interventions to aid prevention, and increase our understanding of risk factors and biomarkers,” said Joel Loiacono, the Alzheimer’s Association’s regional director for eastern Washington and north Idaho. “As a WSU alumnus, I am especially proud of the Alzheimer’s Association’s support of WSU as we work together to end Alzheimer’s and all dementia.”

World experts on shift work meet for WSU-organized conference

Busy city night scene with well-lit skyscrapers, car lights, and constructionMany of the world’s leading experts on shift work are converging on the Inland Northwest this week to present and discuss issues related to night shifts and non-standard working hours. Organized by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center on behalf of the Working Time Society, the 24th International Symposium on Shiftwork and Working Time—Shiftwork2019—will bring together scientists and practitioners focused on improving the health and safety of shift workers. » More …

Celestina Barbosa-Leiker honored with YWCA Women of Achievement award

Celestina Barbosa-Leiker

Celestina Barbosa-LeikerCelestina Barbosa-Leiker, WSU Health Sciences’ vice chancellor for research, is one of 10 winners of the 2019 YWCA Women of Achievement award. Barbosa-Leiker is WSU Health Sciences’ third YWCA Women of Achievement award winner in the last four years, joining Lois James in 2018 and Robbie Paul in 2016. Patricia Butterfield, Ruth Bindler, Thelma Cleveland, Margaret Bruya, Jan Holloway and Barbara Richardson are additional WSU Health Sciences representatives who have also been honored.

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New WSU technology to improve delivery of anti-inflammatory drugs

Portrait image of Zhenjia Wang, associate professor in the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Pharmaceutical scientist Zhenjia Wang was awarded a $1.3M NIH grant to advance his research

A researcher at Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane has developed a new technology that harnesses the immune system to deliver drugs directly to infection sites within the body.

“Most diseases develop in local tissues within the body,” said Zhenjia Wang, an associate professor in the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “That makes drug delivery challenging, because many drugs don’t have targeting properties—they simply go wherever they go. By delivering drugs to the disease site specifically, we can improve treatment while dramatically decreasing side effects.”

Wang’s technology uses neutrophils—a type of white blood cells that play a key role in the body’s natural immune response—to deliver drugs directly to diseased tissue. Neutrophils make up as much as 70 percent of the white blood cells that travel through the bloodstream to help fight off bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens that invade the body and cause inflammation in affected tissue. » More …

Opportunity to participate in customized medicine research at WSU Health Sciences Spokane

WSU Health Sciences Spokane

Help identify which medical approaches most effective for specific people based on genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors

Washington State University (WSU) Health Sciences Spokane will host National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) All of Us Journey, a traveling, hands-on exhibit that aims to gather genetic, biological, environmental, health and lifestyle data from 1 million or more volunteer participants living in the United States. Through NIH partnership with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the program’s ultimate goal is to accelerate research and improve health.

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WSU scientist studies link between poor sleep and PTSD

Willie Vanderheyden uses fluorescent microscopy to identify sleep promoting cells in the dorsal part of a rat brain.
Neuroscientist Willie Vanderheyden uses fluorescent microscopy to identify sleep promoting cells in the dorsal part of a rat brain.

 
At any given time, an estimated 7.7 million American adults suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric condition that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Though PTSD can affect anyone who lives through trauma, it is especially common among military veterans returning from combat zones.

The effects of PTSD can be debilitating. It’s one reason why neuroscientist Willie Vanderheyden—an assistant research professor in the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine—has set out to better understand the condition and its ties to one of his other research interests: sleep.

“Up to 90 percent of people who have experienced trauma suffer from some type of sleep disturbance, whether it’s fragmented sleep, difficulty falling or staying asleep, or nightmares,” Vanderheyden said.

These sleep disturbances may be the result of PTSD, but Vanderheyden says it’s also possible that they are part of what is causing PTSD. » More …

Competition breaks research down into bite-sized chunks

Science is usually a serious matter, but there were plenty of laughs last week at the fourth annual Science Bites event held at WSU Spokane. The science communications competition featured ten graduate and professional students from the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, who rose to the challenge of providing a compelling description of their research in no more than three minutes.

Participants could use one static PowerPoint slide and were expected to use language that could be understood by non-specialists. Facing a panel of judges, they pulled out all the stops, using a variety of laugh-inducing metaphors and anecdotes in their quest for top honors.

Prizes—including $200 toward travel expenses to attend the Science Talk ’19 conference in Portland—went to the top three competitors, all of whom are PhD in pharmaceutical sciences candidates working in different research labs.

Group photo of the 2018 ScienceBites competitors and judges

Science Bites competitors and judges at the 2018 event. From left to right, in the back: Dyston Madsen, Panshak Dakup, Trevor Kirby, Philip Wibisono, Soumyadeep Sarkar, Siavosh Naji-Talakar, and Chancellor Daryll DeWald. Center: Shannon Kozlovich, Priyanka Bushana. Front: Xinyue Dong, Laken Kruger, Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, Shamema Nasrin, and Shirley Moore.

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Research: New study reveals how shift work disrupts metabolism

Study author Elena Skornyakov loads a blood sample into the cold centrifuge at the sleep laboratory at WSU Health Sciences Spokane

Working night shifts or other nonstandard work schedules increases your risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes and other metabolic disorders, which ultimately also raises your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Exactly why this happens has been unclear, but a new study conducted at Washington State University has brought scientists closer to finding the answer. » More …

Meet a Scientist: Dr. Lucia Peixoto’s Work Narrows the Search for Autism Risk Factors

Lucia Peixoto in her lab on the WSU Health Sciences Spokane campus

Lucia Peixoto in her lab on the WSU Health Sciences Spokane campus

A landmark study by scientists at WSU and elsewhere has brought focus to the search for genetic links to autism spectrum disorder, which affects an estimated 2 million Americans. Published in the Jan. 16 issue of Science Signaling, the study identifies more than 2,000 areas of DNA that are active when mice learn a new task and are strongly associated with autism. Taking a closer look at one of those areas, the researchers found a genetic mutation that is associated with increased risk of developing autism.

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