Skip to main content Skip to navigation
WSU Health Sciences Spokane Extra WSU College of Medicine

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.”

Dare to Dream Academy brings migrant students to WSU Health Sciences Spokane

Dare to Dream Students

Dare to Dream Students
When one thinks about “summer camp,” they might think of children heading to the woods, sleeping in cabins and paddling in a canoe. At WSU Health Sciences Spokane, summer camps take on a different meaning—one where high school students of different backgrounds are given the opportunity to explore careers in the health sciences.

One of those opportunities was the Dare to Dream Health Sciences Academy.

» More …

Native American, Alaska Native high school students explore careers in health sciences

Na-ha-shnee student

Na-ha-shnee student

Na-ha-shnee Summer Institute at WSU Health Sciences Spokane, June 16-28

Seventeen Native American and Alaska Native high school students from multiple states will attend the 24th annual Na-ha-shnee Summer Institute at WSU Health Sciences Spokane, June 16 – 28. Attendees are heading into their sophomore, junior or senior years of high school and plan to pursue careers in the health sciences.

» More …

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 …

Iraqi health sciences students visit WSU Spokane

Iraqi students

Iraqi students

Learning how other cultures and countries educate their citizens is always enlightening.

Twenty-three health sciences students from Iraq got great insight into how WSU Health Sciences Spokane educates its students, and WSU staff and faculty learned how the Iraqi students are educated.

It was all part of a visit through WSU’s international programs and the World Learning Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program.

» More …

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 …

WSU medical students’ first – and last – summer break is busy one

Three Medical Students

By Linda Weiford, WSU News

Nick Randall, Ashlyn Jimenez and Erik Stiles recently wrapped up their first year at WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. With the most academically rigorous year of a lifetime behind them, they’re starting the only real summer break they’ll get during medical school.

Even so, they won’t be turning off their brains, watching Netflix or vegging at the beach — nor will their 57 colleagues, all of whom make up the medical school’s inaugural class of students.

» 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.

» More …

Medical school accreditation a great day in WSU’s history

WSU Medical School

WSU Medical School

Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine Dean John Tomkowiak, center, celebrates with Sen. Michael Baumgartner (left) and Rep. Marcus Riccelli (right)

(This story appears in the latest edition of the WSU Spokane Magazine)

By Doug Nadvornick

In the short history of Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, there have been several momentous events.

The most important and the one that prompted high fives and whoops and hollers heard all the way across the state was the October 19 decision by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, or LCME – the allopathic medical school accrediting agency in the U.S. and Canada – to grant preliminary accreditation to the college so that it may accept medical students.

» More …