CBD shows promise for reducing cigarette smoking
February 16, 2023
Cannabidiol or CBD, a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, inhibits the metabolism of nicotine, new research has found, meaning it could help tobacco users curb the urge for that next cigarette. A team led by Washington State University researchers tested the effects of CBD and its major metabolite on human liver tissue and cell samples, showing that it inhibited a key enzyme for nicotine metabolism.
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WSU nets top 100 ranking among U.S. universities
February 6, 2023
WSU stands among the top 100 universities nationwide in the inaugural rankings from a platform keenly focused on research publications and impact. Research.com ranked WSU 89th among more than 540 universities in the United States in its 2022 rankings and 225th among institutions of higher education worldwide.
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Researchers working to ensure drug safety in underrepresented populations
January 31, 2023
Washington State University scientists are helping to develop safer drug dosing standards for children and other populations that are underrepresented in clinical drug trials, such as pregnant women, older adults taking multiple medications, and people from certain ethnic groups.
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Top research coverage of 2022
January 30, 2023
While many want to put the pandemic in the past, unfortunately, 2022 proved that COVID‑19 is very much still here. Washington State University’s most widely covered research of the year involved the discovery of a virus, a type of cousin to SAR-CoV-2, in Russian bats that could possibly jump to humans. This study demonstrates the impact and importance of WSU’s leading infectious disease research that hopefully, can help prevent or minimize the next viral outbreak. Much of the WSU research that had the broadest general interest reach this year also had to do with health and wellness, ranging from the benefits of exercise to a new potential autism test to finding clues to fight diabetes from hibernating bears.
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Interest grows in reward-based treatment for addiction
January 10, 2023
People who want to quit smoking or stop using other drugs and alcohol need a powerful tool. Contingency management is the technical name of one such tool that rewards people for not engaging in the behaviors they’re trying to quit, through prizes, vouchers, or gift cards. Though it’s not new – there are decades of studies showing its effectiveness – there’s growing interest in using contingency management to address addiction. Because faculty at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine are experienced in researching and implementing contingency management programs, they’re consulting with and training providers around the country.
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WSU cancer disparities study receives $1 million in grants
December 21, 2022
Washington State University’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) and Northwest Health Education Research Outcomes Network (NW HERON) will team with WSU medical students to examine disparities in cancer screening, early detection, treatment, and prevention in rural, tribal, and Hispanic populations in the state of Washington.
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WSU sleep researchers say Santa at risk for crashing sleigh over North America due to fatigue
December 12, 2022
Santa’s all-nighter to deliver holiday presents around the world could put him at heightened risk for a fatigue-related sleigh crash over North America, according to researchers at the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The case study, published in Sleep Health earlier this year, identified the safety impacts of a 23-hour night shift in late December on an overweight, older male seasonal worker and his reindeer-propelled global distribution team, as well as strategies to mitigate the impacts for a safer flight.
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Twin study links exercise to beneficial epigenetic changes
Dec. 6, 2022
Consistent exercise can change not just waistlines but the very molecules in the human body that influence how genes behave, a new study of twins indicates. The Washington State University study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that the more physically active siblings in identical twin pairs had lower signs of metabolic disease, measured by waist size and body mass index.
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Study identifies mental health disparities in rural schools
November 15, 2022
Proportionally fewer rural public schools have the ability to get kids diagnosed with mental health issues than their urban counterparts, according to a study led by WSU researchers. Supporting recent calls for increased mental health services, the study revealed that only a little more than half of all public schools reported providing assessments for mental health disorders.
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Home sensors can detect opioid withdrawal signs at night
October 11, 2022
Some smart home technology could help curb opioid overdose. A Washington State University pilot study showed that a set of noninvasive home sensors could provide accurate information about overnight restlessness and sleep problems for people recovering from opioid use disorder. Disrupted sleep is a major complaint of people trying to quit highly addictive opioids.
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Researchers across WSU system gather for discussion on public health efforts
September 23, 2022
More than 125 faculty and staff representing multiple colleges and campuses gathered at WSU Spokane and via Zoom for the WSU Public Health Rural, Remote, and Underserved Research Symposium, a day of timely conversations exploring the vast array of research activities occurring on public health topics systemwide.
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Rural suicide a focus of WSU research, outreach
September 20, 2022
The suicide rate in rural America is higher than in urban America. Reasons include a lack of mental health care, financial stress, isolation, substance abuse and generally greater access to guns. It all adds up to a tragic — and growing — health disparity. Washington State University is working on new approaches to address the issue, grounded in the university’s mission of service and tradition of outreach to rural communities.
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Study identifies key protein that drives rheumatoid arthritis damage
September 7, 2022
Scientists have identified a protein known as sulfatase-2 that plays a critical role in the damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. A chronic disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s own joint tissues, rheumatoid arthritis affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans. The discovery sheds new light on the molecular processes that drive inflammation seen in rheumatoid arthritis and could also someday lead to improved treatment of the disease, which currently has no cure.
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Making an Impact
Comparison with Canada highlights poor access to US methadone treatment
People living in the United States must travel significantly farther to access methadone treatment for opioid addiction than Canadians, suggests a new study led by Washington State University researchers.
Published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the researchers’ analysis showed that the average driving distance to the closest methadone clinic accepting new patients was more than three times greater in the U.S. compared to Canada. When limiting their analysis to clinics that could provide treatment within 48 hours the difference was even larger, with those in the U.S. having to travel more than five times farther than their neighbors north of the border.
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Researcher on the Rise
Q&A with Solmaz Amiri
In her 12-plus years spent at WSU Spokane, Solmaz Amiri has conducted research on an unusually wide range of topics—from crime, substance use, and mental health to cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and respiratory diseases. A research assistant professor in the Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), Amiri is the first to admit that she is not an expert in any of those disciplines. Her area of expertise is in geographic information systems (GIS) and geospatial statistics, which form the foundation for her research.
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Inland Northwest Research Symposium
Thurs. March 23, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Stier Lecture in Medicine
Thurs. March 23, 5:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Sara Parent (College of Medicine) conducted interviews on addiction treatment for a recent episode of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s show Think Out Loud and an article in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. An assistant professor with the Promoting Research Initiative in Substance Abuse and Mental Health (PRISM) Collaborative, Parent manages studies of contingency management, an incentive-based substance use treatment.
Research by Solmaz Amiri (College of Medicine/IREACH) and medical student Adithya Vegaraju on the mental health benefits of living near parks and water sources received attention in news outlets around the nation and beyond, including KXLY News in Spokane, Tri-Cities-based NBC Right Now, British newspaper the Daily Mail, and health news outlet HealthDay.
Janessa Graves (College of Nursing) was interviewed by Spokane Public Radio about her involvement in a new Washington State bill to provide funding for telemental health services in rural school districts. The bill would revive and expand a mental health program conceived by Graves that provided services to students in five rural northeast districts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research conducted by Philip Lazarus (College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences) that suggests that CBD in cannabis could help people quit smoking was featured in various general news outlets around the state and beyond, including KHQ Local News in Spokane and NBC Right Now in Tri-Cities, as well as specialty publications such as High Times, Tobacco Reporter, and MedicalResearch.com.
Anna Zamora-Kapoor (College of Medicine/IREACH) was quoted in a Lewiston-Tribune article about an upcoming legislative change that will make undocumented immigrants living in Washington State eligible to access health and dental insurance.
The work of three autism researchers at WSU Spokane was highlighted in a pair of articles published in the Spring 2023 issue of Washington State Magazine. “Looking early for autism” focuses on work done by Georgina Lynch (College of Medicine/Speech and Hearing Sciences) to develop a portable eye-screening tool that could help detect autism sooner and also mentions research conducted by Lauren Thompson (College of Medicine/Speech and Hearing Sciences). “Is there a sleep connection in autism?” describes research conducted by Lucia Peixoto (College of Medicine/Sleep and Performance Research Center) into the link between autism and poor sleep.
Marcos Frank (College of Medicine/Sleep and Performance Research Center) was featured in a recent Ask Dr. Universe podcast about his path to becoming a scientist and the curiosity that drives his work.
Awards & Honors
John Clarke, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been selected as the recipient of the Society of Toxicology’s 2023 Achievement Award. The award honors his significant contributions to research, service, and education in the fields of precision medicine and environmental toxicology. This includes his research on the impacts of toxic freshwater algae blooms on the liver, which has informed policies and regulations that minimize people’s exposure and protect human health, along with studies on natural product-drug interactions involving the liver and the effects of the western diet on drug disposition. In a blog post announcing Clarke as the award recipient, the Society of Toxicology lauds him for his high commitment to translational toxicology research, attainment of significant extramural funding, and strong publication record. Clarke will be officially presented with the award at a March 19 awards ceremony at the Society’s annual meeting.
Amanda Boyd, an associate professor in the College of Medicine and co-director of the Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), has been appointed to the Standing Committee on Advancing Science Communication of the National Academies for Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for a three-year term. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and world, helping to shape sound policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine. Its 17-member Standing Committee on Advancing Science Communication works to more effectively engage all communities with science in ways that are equitable, evidence-based, and inclusive. A member of the Métis Nation from the Northern Peace Country of Alberta, Boyd has more than 16 years of communication practice and research experience with rural and Indigenous populations in the U.S. and Canada.
Newly Tenured/Promoted Researchers
Congratulations to our newly tenured and/or promoted researchers, whose work is contributing toward solving society’s most pressing health challenges (pictured above from left to right in order listed):
College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences
Maia Avtandilashvili – promoted to career-track associate professor (research)
Bhagwat Prasad – granted tenure
George Tabatadze – promoted to career-track associate professor (research)
Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
Ofer Amram – granted tenure/promoted to associate professor
Franck Carbonero – granted tenure/promoted to associate professor
Georgina Lynch – granted tenure/promoted to associate professor
Clemma Muller – granted tenure/promoted to associate professor
Lucia Peixoto – granted tenure/promoted to associate professor
Lauren Thompson – granted tenure/promoted to associate professor
Patrik Johansson – promoted to professor
Researchers in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences have discovered a new class of chemicals capable of regulating the activity of brain receptors that control neurotransmission—the transfer of information between neurons in the brain. This class of chemicals includes farnesol and other types of alcohols collectively called isoprenols, which are byproducts of the cholesterol-making process in the cells of mammals. Earlier work by members of the team had shown the presence of farnesol in the human brain. This latest study provides new insight into how isoprenols may be used in the treatment of diseases and conditions caused by altered neurotransmission.
The researchers’ focus was on how farnesol interacts with and regulates the activity of brain proteins found on the surface of brain neurons known as GABAA receptors. GABA—short for gamma-aminobutyric acid—is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that it reduces a nerve cell’s ability to receive, create, or send chemical messages to other nerve cells. Using laboratory and computational experiments, the research team showed that farnesol binds to and activates GABAA receptors. Many medical conditions are associated with changes in GABA levels or GABAA receptor activity, including anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, epilepsy, autism, and dementia. Also, a wide range of drugs used to control these conditions target GABAA receptors. Thus, the team’s research provides insights into how this class of chemicals could be harnessed to control GABAA receptors and could someday lead to improved treatment of conditions that depend on GABA. GABAA receptors are also the target of ethanol, the form of alcohol commonly contained in alcoholic beverages. Therefore, this work could also help increase scientists’ understanding of the molecular processes involved in ethanol poisoning and identify new ways to mitigate the effects of excessive alcohol use.
The work was led by co-senior authors Jean-Baptiste Roullet, professor of pharmacotherapy, and Senthil Natesan, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences. Other WSU team members include co-first authors Jeevan GC, a former postdoc, and Christopher Szlenk, a PhD graduate., as well as current graduate students Ayobami Diyaolu and Peter Obi (all pictured above, from left to right). Their paper, “Allosteric Modulation of α1β3γ2 GABAA Receptors by Farnesol Through the Neurosteroid Sites,” was published in the Biophysical Journal.
Associate professor Boyang (Jason) Wu (College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences) has received a $1,377,000 grant from the federal Defense Health Agency for a three-year study on the role of a protein known as LMO4 in lethal prostate cancer. Aggressive forms of prostate cancer often don’t respond to treatment and spread to distant parts of the body. They are also frequently accompanied by features of neuroendocrine cancer, which begins in specialized cells that have traits of both hormone-producing endocrine cells and nerve cells. Widespread use of enzalutamide—a hormonal treatment for prostate cancer that blocks testosterone’s effect in the body—triggers changes in cells that have been recognized as a mechanism for rapidly developing treatment resistance and progression of prostate cancer toward terminal stages. This includes metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) and neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC). However, the molecular mechanisms that cause prostate cancer to transition to an aggressive state is still mostly unclear. In preliminary studies, the WSU researchers identified LMO4 as a strong potential driver of the growth, survival, invasion and therapy response of enzalutamide-resistant mCRPC cells. In this study, they will build on those preliminary findings to investigate the functional role, mechanistic basis, and therapeutic targeting potential of LMO4 in lethal forms of prostate cancer, including mCRPC and NEPC. Ultimately, this work could lead to new treatments to prolong survival in patients with late-stage prostate cancer.
Assistant professor Oladunni Oluwoye and assistant research professor Liat Kriegel (College of Medicine) have received a four-year $500K grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to start a community-based mental health education and awareness initiative in Eastern Washington. The goal for the initiative is to increase mental health literacy, resources, screening and referrals for psychosis and other mental health problems experienced by Spokane County youth aged 15 to 25. Through the initiative, the WSU team will provide annual training to 200 service providers and community members on how to recognize signs and symptoms of serious emotional disturbances and serious mental illness in youth. The training will be based on the Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid curriculum, which has been adapted to include training on screening tools for early onset psychosis. Additional goals for the project include educating service providers on valid screening tools for identifying psychotic disorders and making referrals to coordinated specialty care programs for early psychosis; increasing referrals to mental health services and coordinated specialty care programs; and providing public mental health education and events that address stigma, mental health equity, and community concerns.
Associate professor Janessa Graves (College of Nursing) and PhD in Nursing graduate and assistant professor Shawna Beese (WSU Extension) have received $10,000 in funding from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing for a 9-month research project on access to mental health services. Access to mental health services is a growing concern in the United States, specifically in rural and underserved communities. Little research has been done to understand the barriers faced by historically underrepresented populations in accessing services in rural communities. As part of this project, the researchers will determine the relationships between mental health access and barriers, rurality, race, and ethnicity within data from the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. The All of Us Research Program is an effort to gather health data from one million or more people living in the U.S., with a specific focus on enrolling people who haven’t taken part in or have been left out of health research previously. Goals for the WSU research project include estimating the prevalence of mental health conditions and comparing the use of mental health services in rural and non-rural populations; testing whether underlying factors—such as race—change the association between mental health conditions and rurality and use of mental health care services and rurality; and comparing the likelihood of encountering barriers to accessing healthcare services between historically underrepresented participants in rural areas and other rural participants.
Grant & Contract Award Summary
October 1 – December 31, 2022
This summary provides an overview of funding activity in the second quarter of this fiscal year, which covers awards for new and continuing research and other sponsored projects received between October 1 and December 31.
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