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Lone teenage girl leaning against school wall while glancing over her shoulder at the school entrance

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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Sleepless woman suffering from insomniaHome 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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Placeholder image with coughead logoResearchers 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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Woman sitting in field with mountain in the distanceRural 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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Image of hands cradling a red, inflamed knee
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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Placeholder image with coughead logoIREACH a partner in $4.5 million study of Wabanaki Nation health

August 30, 2022

WSU’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) and Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness have been awarded a four-year, $4.49 million center grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant aims to estimate the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias and mild cognitive impairment among Wabanaki tribal citizens aged 55 and older to determine current and future economic costs associated with these conditions.
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Staff in Georgina Lynch's lab demonstrate the use of a monocular pupillometer to measure the pupillary light reflexEye test could help screen children for autism

August 22, 2022

Measuring how the eyes’ pupils change in response to light — known as the pupillary light reflex — could potentially be used to screen for autism in young children, according to a study conducted at Washington State University.
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Image of soldier sleepingResearchers discuss technologies for national defense

August 15, 2022

Scientific understanding of sleep and the potential consequences of sleep deprivation have come a long way since Hans Van Dongen arrived in the fall of 2005 at WSU Spokane’s Sleep and Performance Research Center. The year before Van Dongen joined the lab while working elsewhere, Van Dongen and colleagues had discovered some people are more resilient to sleep loss than others.
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Delivery person handing bag of groceries through front door of home. Washington boosts access to grocery delivery for SNAP recipients

July 11, 2022

A pilot project in Washington to make online grocery buying more widely available to SNAP recipients is already near its goal, buoyed in part by pandemic shutdowns. But though nearly 80% of beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — previously known as food stamps — have access to online grocery buying and delivery in the state, those services are concentrated in urban areas, a new study by WSU College of Nursing PhD student Shawna Beese found.
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Illustration of human brain and neuronGleason Institute awards grants for neurodegenerative disease research

June 21, 2022

Four research teams have received more than $160,000 in seed grant funding from the WSU Spokane Steve Gleason Institute for Neuroscience for research projects related to neurodegenerative diseases.
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Image shows a linear accelerator used for cancer therapyNative Americans face disproportionate travel burden for cancer treatment

June 13, 2022

Experiencing higher rates of certain cancers than non-Hispanic whites, many Native Americans have to travel especially large distances to access radiation therapy, according to a study led by Washington State University researchers. The study found that individuals living in U.S. neighborhoods with majority American Indian and Alaska Native populations have to travel around 40 miles farther to the nearest radiation therapy facility than those living in neighborhoods dominated by other racial groups.
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Research Highlights

Making an Impact
Twin research sheds light on how lifestyle, environment impact health

A pair of twins is shown who prefer different food choices (apple vs. hamburger)

Many people’s best ideas may come in the shower, but for Dedra Buchwald—director of the WSU Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health—one stroke of research genius hit her at her local driver’s licensing office almost 25 years ago. A professor of medicine at the University of Washington at the time, Buchwald had gone in to replace a lost driver’s license. While filling out a form, a question caught her eye: “Are you a twin or a triplet?”

At that time, Washington driver’s license numbers were generated based on a combination of characters representing an applicant’s name and birth date. This meant that twins with similar first names could end up with identical numbers, so asking the question allowed the Department of Licensing to avoid duplicating numbers. To Buchwald, it presented an opportunity to work with the state to create an invaluable resource that didn’t yet exist here: a twin research registry.

Now led by Glen Duncan, professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, the Washington State Twin Registry encompasses thousands of twin pairs. Based on twins’ responses to an initial enrollment survey and regular follow-up surveys, Duncan and his team use data from the registry to study the connection between people’s lifestyle behaviors and living environment and their physical and mental health.
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Researcher on the Rise
Q&A with George Tabatadze

Portrait photo of George TabatadzeRadiation is used to produce energy, power spacecraft and satellites, and diagnose and treat disease, among other uses. Exposure to radiation comes with safety risks, which are at the heart of the work done by research assistant professor George Tabatadze and his colleagues at the United States Transuranium and Uranium Registries (USTUR), a Tri-Cities-based research unit housed in the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
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Wake Up With Research
Watch the November 16 presentation on child and family health

Stay tuned for details on our next event on climate change, which will be held in a virtual format in January 2023.

Media Mentions

Steve James (College of Medicine/Sleep and Performance Research Center) was quoted in a New York Times article about the use of simulation to train police officers on how to respond to mass shooting incidents. A principal investigator in the Simulated Hazardous Operational Tasks Laboratory, James conducts research and training focused on the impacts of fatigue and stress on police performance.

Research by Georgina Lynch (College of Medicine) on the use of an eye test as a potential screening tool for autism was covered in a wide variety of news outlets. This included stories on FOX12 Oregon and Northwest News Radio and in the Spokesman-Review and Seattle Times, as well as a story on Portland-based TV news station KOIN6 that got picked up by dozens of other channel news stations across the country.

Research led by Marian Wilson (College of Nursing) that shows that home sensors could detect signs of opioid withdrawal was the topic of news features by Seattle’s KOMO News and KHQ-TV in Spokane.

Claire Richards (College of Nursing) was quoted in an Axios feature about public health efforts to deal with the effects of extreme climate events such as excessive heat and wildfire smoke.

Research led by Solmaz Amiri (College of Medicine/IREACH) about inequities in access to radiation therapy for cancer treatment among Native Americans and rural residents was the focus of a recent Spokesman-Review article that also quoted Amiri’s coauthors and colleagues Patrik Johansson and Cole Allick.

Research led by Salah-Uddin Ahmed (College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences) that identifies a key protein that drives inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis was covered in the Spokesman-Review, New Atlas, LabRoots, and other news outlets across the globe. In addition, previous work by Ahmed that suggested that a compound found in green tea may help ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis was described in an article in the UK Daily Mirror.

Astrid Suchy-Dicey (College of Medicine/IREACH) was a guest on the Dementia Matters podcast, where she discussed her research that showed that APOE e4, a gene considered to be a genetic risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia, is not linked to neurodegenerative disease in American Indian populations.

Research led by Phil Lazarus (College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences) on potential interactions between cannabis and conventional drugs was mentioned in a Benzinga article about a new feature in Apple’s Health app that warns users about potential medication interactions.

Research on missed cancer screening during the COVID-19 pandemic led by Ofer Amram (College of Medicine) was mentioned in a Range Media article discussing the discontinuation of a cancer care program run by the Spokane Regional Health District.

Awards & Honors

Portrait of DARPA Risers finalist Lilly SkeikyPortrait of DARPA Risers finalist Courtney KurinecAssistant professor Courtney Kurinec (left) and graduate student Lilly Skeiky (right) of the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center were among six DARPA Risers finalists selected to present talks at the DARPA Forward conference held at WSU Pullman this September. DARPA—which stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—is an agency within the US Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. Kurinec and Skeiky were selected from a cohort of 21 early-career scientists based on poster presentations of their research proposals about the effects of sleep deprivation on decision making in dynamic environments and uncovering mechanisms to make sleep banking more efficient, respectively.

College of Medicine assistant professor Kait Hirchak received the Outstanding Early Career Researcher Award at a recent conference held by the Society for Implementation Research Collaboration (SIRC). SIRC brings together researchers and practitioners committed to the evaluation and implementation of evidence-based psychosocial interventions. Hirchak, who studies and implements programs to prevent and treat alcohol use disorders, won the award for her presentation, “From Research to Action: Translating Evidence for a Culturally Adapted Contingency Management Program into Practice in Partnership with American Indian Communities.”

Publication Highlight

Portrait photo of Peter ObiPortriat photo of Senthil NatesanTwo researchers in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences have published findings that could provide a basis for better drug design. Using computer simulation, their study showed that lipids play an active role in providing access to novel drug binding sites that were recently found hidden within the plasma membrane, the layer that separates the interior of cells from the outside environment. More than half of FDA-approved drugs work by binding to proteins that are embedded in the plasma membrane. Led by first author Peter Obi (left)—a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences candidate—and senior author and associate professor Senthil Natesan (right) of the Modeling and Simulation Lab, this work provides first-time evidence that scientists may be able harness these lipid-ligand interactions to design better, more specific drugs with fewer or no side effects. Their paper,“Membrane Lipids Are an Integral Part of Transmembrane Allosteric Sites in GPCRs: A Case Study of Cannabinoid CB1 Receptor Bound to a Negative Allosteric Modulator, ORG27569, and Analogs,” was published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Funding Highlights

Portrait photo of Michael McDonellA multidisciplinary group of scientists has received a two-year $1,3 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to establish the Northwest Center for Rural Opioid Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery (NW CROP-TR) in collaboration with Oregon State University (OSU). Co-led by professor Michael McDonell (College of Medicine), associate professor Elizabeth Weybright (CAHNRS), and OSU faculty member Allison Meyers, the new center will leverage the experience and expertise of two existing rural opioid technical assistance centers at WSU and OSU to meet the needs of rural communities throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska that are battling the rising use of opioids and stimulants and its consequences. NW-CROP-TR will focus on providing training and technical assistance on substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery, including efforts to support behavioral health equity by providing culturally congruent training and technical assistance to the American Indian and Alaska Native communities and more than one million Latinx people residing in the region served by the center. The overall goal of NW CROP-TR is to prevent drug use and drug poisonings, support effective substance use disorder treatment and sustained recovery, and promote mental health.

Portrait photo of Lucia PeixotoAssistant professor Lucia Peixoto (College of Medicine) has received a five-year, $1.9 million Maximizing Investigators Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health. The grant provides funding for a study to test the hypothesis that one of the evolutionarily conserved functions of sleep is to influence gene expression and chromatin regulation. Chromatin is the material that packages long strands of DNA into a compact shape that fits inside cells and controls the activity of certain genes by opening and closing to allow access during transcription. It plays a vital role in learning and memory, which are critical to the survival of any species because they allow organisms to adapt their behavior based on experience. Sleep is thought to facilitate these processes. This study will use novel technology to define, for the first time, how sleep influences transcription and chromatin regulation across different cell types in two distantly related vertebrate species: the mouse and the zebrafish. The ultimate goal for this work is to serve as the basis for functional studies to define mechanisms conserved across species by which sleep can modulate gene expression and chromatin remodeling.

A group of WSU researchers led by assistant professor Claire Richards (College of Nursing) has received a four-year, $344,324 grant as part of the National Science Foundation’s Navigating the New Artic Program, which supports research projects to study the Arctic’s changing natural, built, and social environments. The grant provides four years of funding for the WSU team to contribute to a multi-institutional, collaborative project to develop an interactive risk-informed decision-making platform related to wildfires in Alaska, which is led by the University of Alaska Anchorage and also involves researchers at George Washington University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Working with electric utilities, emergency managers, forestry experts, and technology developers in Alaska and elsewhere, the research team will build a platform that will integrate the state’s vegetation regimes and short-term fire behavior; electricity network preparedness and response before, during, and following wildfires; and health vulnerability of local communities and individual residents. The platform will be tested in a number of wildfire-prone regions within Alaska. The goal of the project is to enhance public safety and resilience of the electric delivery infrastructure in Alaska when facing future wildfire disasters.

Grant & Contract Award Summary
July 1 – September 30, 2022

This summary provides an overview of funding activity in the first quarter of this fiscal year, which covers awards for new and continuing research and other sponsored projects received between July 1 and September 30.
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