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Latest Headlines

Pharmacists prove effective, less costly care option for minor illnesses

May 28, 2024

Close up of a pharmacist selling medications to a customer.Greater use of pharmacists to treat minor illnesses could potentially save millions of dollars in health care costs, according to new research led by Washington State University. The findings also indicate a way to improve healthcare access by expanding availability of pharmacists’ clinical services including prescribing medications, amid an ongoing shortage of primary care providers.

The study found that care for a range of minor health issues — including urinary tract infections, shingles, animal bites and headaches — costs an average of about $278 less when treated in pharmacies compared to patients with similar conditions treated at “traditional sites” of primary care, urgent care or emergency room settings.
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Study shows how night shift work can raise risk of diabetes, obesity

May 9, 2024

Alarm clock w laptop is shown in dark office with nurse in the backgroundJust a few days on a night shift schedule throws off protein rhythms related to blood glucose regulation, energy metabolism and inflammation, processes that can influence the development of chronic metabolic conditions.

The finding, from a study led by scientists at Washington State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, provides new clues as to why night shift workers are more prone to diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders.
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WSU sleep scientist Kimberly Honn elected president of Working Time Society

May 2, 2024

Portrait photo of sleep scientist Kimberly HonnWashington State University sleep scientist Kimberly Honn has been elected as president of the Working Time Society, serving a three-year term that started on April 1.

The Working Time Society is the academic counterpart of the Scientific Committee on Shiftwork and Working Time of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), a non-governmental organization recognized by the United Nations.
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ChatGPT fails at heart risk assessment

May 1, 2024

Closeup of unidentified nurse looking at data on a tablet computerDespite ChatGPT’s reported ability to pass medical exams, new research indicates it would be unwise to rely on it for some health assessments, such as whether a patient with chest pain needs to be hospitalized.

In a study involving thousands of simulated cases of patients with chest pain, ChatGPT provided inconsistent conclusions, returning different heart risk assessment levels for the exact same patient data. The generative AI system also failed to match the traditional methods physicians use to judge a patient’s cardiac risk.
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Contingency Management is gaining favor for treating addiction

April 9, 2024

build good habits text quote written in wooden signpost outdoors in nature.Washington State University scientists have published study after study showing that reinforcement-based addiction treatment works. WSU is considered a leader in the field, in fact.

Contingency management, or CM, is a behavioral therapy that rewards people for avoiding the habits they’re trying to quit. Someone in CM treatment might visit a clinic regularly for a urine test, and if it’s drug-negative, they immediately get a gift card or prize. Despite the evidence in its favor, uptake of the treatment has been slow. Federal and state regulations have been a major hurdle, as has a mindset that people shouldn’t be paid to abstain from drugs and alcohol. That’s now changing.
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Blood sugar lows, highs hamper brain function in individuals with Type 1 diabetes

March 25, 2024

A woman is shown with a glucose monitoring device mounted on her arm and holding smartphone

Large swings in blood glucose tied to Type 1 diabetes may impact the brain’s ability to quickly process information, according to a study led by scientists at Washington State University and McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. The research also showed that some individuals are more severely impacted by these changes, which includes older people and those with certain health conditions.

Published in npj Digital Medicine, the study found that very low and very high glucose levels were associated with slower and less accurate cognitive processing speed, with the most dramatic effect seen at low glucose levels.
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Rural and minority dementia patients face disparities in access to neurologists

March 20, 2024

Close up of neurologist's hands pointing at MRI brain scanGetting dementia diagnosed can be a long and difficult process for anyone, but some may face additional challenges based on race or ethnicity and where they live, according to a study led by Washington State University researchers.

The study of nearly 95,000 Washington state residents found that people living outside of urban areas as well as Native American and Hispanic people face longer travel distances to be seen by neurologists. The researchers said these disparities could be contributing to delayed diagnoses, which can result in higher costs of care, reduced chances of preserving cognitive function and lower quality of life for dementia patients.
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Multiple air pollutants linked to asthma symptoms in children

March 13, 2024

Close up of teen boy coughing from asthmaExposure to several combinations of toxic atmospheric pollutants may be triggering asthma symptoms among children, a recent analysis suggests.

The study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, showed that 25 different combinations of air pollutants were associated with asthma symptoms among 269 elementary school children diagnosed with asthma in Spokane, Washington. In line with previous research, the WSU-led study revealed a socioeconomic disparity—with one group of children from a lower-income neighborhood exposed to more toxic combinations, a total of 13 of the 25 identified in this research.
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AI research supports health equity in rural Washington

February 22, 2024

WSU logoWashington State University sociologist Anna Zamora-Kapoor is studying how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) could help improve cancer survival outcomes among the Pacific Northwest’s rural Hispanic population.

As one of 25 fellows in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) AIM-AHEAD leadership program, and in partnership with Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, Washington, Zamora-Kapoor is using AI generated text messages and a text-based intervention to help identify, schedule, and follow up with patients eligible for a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan, an efficient and effective way to screen for lung cancer.
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Research Highlights

Making an Impact
Protein discovery could help prevent cancer treatment-related heart damage

Graphic representation of human heart functionBlocking a protein known as CDK7 could prevent heart damage associated with a commonly used cancer chemotherapy medication, according to a study led by scientists at Washington State University. Importantly, the researchers also found that inhibiting CDK7 could help enhance the medication’s cancer-killing capability.

Based on an animal model, the study findings could provide a foundation for future treatment strategies to reduce chemotherapy-related heart toxicity and increase treatment effectiveness. This could ultimately help increase the lifespan of people with cancer.
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Researcher on the Rise
Q&A with Katy Cabbage

Portrait photo of Katy CabbageWhen Katy Cabbage joined the College of Medicine’s Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences as an assistant professor in January 2023, it was a homecoming. More than twenty years earlier, she had graduated from Eastern Washington University’s communication disorders program, which was jointly operated with WSU’s speech and hearing sciences program at the time. Now she’s back on campus researching the interplay between speech disorders and literacy and teaching the next generation of speech-language pathologists.
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Media Mentions

Substance use researcher Michael McDonell (College of Medicine) was quoted in CNN article on the merits of using a behavioral treatment known as contingency management to combat addiction to stimulants. In addition, the Inlander talked to McDonell for an article on an ADHD self-care and productivity app developed by a former Spokane resident.

A study on how night shift work increases the risk of diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases made headlines across the nation and beyond. Conducted by Hans Van Dongen (College of Medicine/Sleep and Performance Research Center) and others at WSU and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the study was covered by Newsweek, Fast Company, CBS News Boston, Fox 5 New York, Safety + Health Magazine and HealthDay, among other outlets.

Ana Zamora-Kapoor (College of Medicine/IREACH) was quoted in a Politico article on the use of AI in healthcare. The article talks about Zamora-Kapoor’s NIH-funded project that looks at the use of AI-generated text messages to encourage lung cancer screening in rural residents who are at risk for the disease.

A study on rural and racial disparities in dementia treatment led by Solmaz Amiri (College of Medicine/IREACH) received attention in various outlets across the Northwest and elsewhere, including Crosscut, HealthDay, Northwest Public Broadcasting, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and others. In addition, another study by Amiri that looked at the link between air pollutants and asthma outcomes in school children was covered in HealthDay, Healio, and Pharmacy Times, among other outlets.

Research on how large swings in blood glucose in type 1 diabetes impact cognitive processing speed was covered in the Spokesman-Review, HealthDay, MedPageToday, Pharmacy Times, UK-based and other outlets. The study was led by Naomi Chaytor (College of Medicine) in collaboration with researchers at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.

A study led by Thomas Heston (College of Medicine) that showed ChatGPT’s poor performance at assessing heart risk in thousands of simulated patient cases made news headlines in HealthDay, Cardiovascular Business and other news outlets.

Research on the health impacts of heat and wildfire smoke on farmworkers led by Julie Postma (College of Nursing) was the focus of an article in Washington State Magazine. The article is part of a special feature consisting of five stories that focus on WSU research that addresses the public health risks of heat exposure.

Awards & Honors

Portrait photo of Bhagwat PrasadBhagwat Prasad, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, was appointed as chair-elect for the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) Division for Drug Metabolism and Disposition. ASPET is a scientific society that was founded to promote the growth of pharmacological research. Prasad’s research focuses on identifying interindividual differences in how the body processes pharmaceutical drugs, which helps determine safer dosing standards for young children and other populations who are underrepresented in clinical drug trials. In addition to the ASPET honor, he was also the recipient of this year’s Chancellor’s Excellence Award in Research and Scholarship.

Portrait photo of Denise SmartDenise Smart, a professor in the College of Nursing, has been selected as the 2024 YWCA Woman of Achievement in the category of Science, Technology and Environment. A long-time registered nurse, educator and former military public health officer, Smart is being recognized for her passion for empowering nurses in research and academia and her published research on nurses and compassion fatigue, among other key topics. The award was formally presented to her at a March 15 ceremony.

Publication Highlight

Symptoms of psychosis, depression and anxiety prior a first episode of psychosis differed in severity based on the characteristics of neighborhoods where people lived, concludes a study led by Oladunni Oluwoye, a College of Medicine assistant professor and a researcher in the Promoting Research Initiatives in Substance Use and Mental Health (PRISM) Collaborative.

Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study found that individuals living in urban high-risk and low-risk neighborhoods had more severe psychotic symptoms compared to those living in rural neighborhoods. They also found that people who lived in urban high-risk neighborhoods had more severe depression and anxiety than their rural counterparts.

Neighborhood profiles (rural, high-risk urban, low-risk urban) were based on census tract data and how neighborhoods scored on almost a dozen different neighborhood-level variables that influence mental health outcomes. These variables included structural and social determinants of health such as park access, walkability, grocery access, land use, transportation barriers, health care access and outcomes, housing conditions, environmental exposure and economic.

Mental health outcomes data came from a group of 225 individuals with first episode psychosis who were enrolled in a targeted early psychosis intervention known as coordinated specialty care between 2017 and 2022. All participants were between the ages of 14 and 36. In their analysis, the researchers related the neighborhood risk profile for each participant’s home address to the severity of their mental health symptoms. About half of participants lived in urban high-risk neighborhoods, with the other half almost evenly divided between urban low-risk and rural neighborhoods.

Findings from the study suggest that people with first episode psychosis who live in lower-income urban neighborhoods with high levels of pollution, among other factors, could have more symptoms than those living in rural areas or less disadvantaged urban areas. Strategies to build resilience against these negative neighborhood effects could potentially benefit treatment outcomes in individuals with first episode psychosis, the researchers suggest.

Other authors on the study include PRISM faculty member Doug Weeks and PRISM staff members Megan Puzia and Ari Lissau, as well as Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology faculty member Ofer Amram. Partial funding support for the study came from the National Institute of Mental Health and Washington State Health Care Authority.

Funding Highlights

Boyang Wu (College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences) has been awarded a five-year, $2.4M grant by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute to advance the study of neuroendocrine prostate cancer, a rare, untreatable type of prostate cancer with an average life expectancy of less than one year after diagnosis. Neuroendocrine prostate cancer often develops in patients who have been treated with strong testosterone blockers for castration-resistant prostate cancer, a type of cancer that keeps growing despite very low testosterone levels. Preliminary studies conducted by Wu and his team suggest that an enzyme known as tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TPH1) may be a key player in the development and growth of neuroendocrine prostate cancer. In this study, the researchers will determine whether TPH1 does in fact play an active role in driving neuroendocrine prostate cancer and attempt to unravel the underlying molecular mechanisms. Findings from this study may ultimately help scientists develop new therapies to extend the life expectancy of patients with neuroendocrine prostate cancer.

Portrait photo of Elizabeth WoodElizabeth Wood (College of Medicine, Community and Behavioral Health) has received $94,543 in funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a subaward granted by a partnership between the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). This new funding will support an analysis of data from the 2022 National Survey on Health and Disability to determine the self-reported impacts of COVID-19 on the health and healthcare of people with disabilities. The study will create a detailed and comprehensive portrait of these impacts, from the direct impact of the disease to the indirect impact of the pandemic on health and access to health care. Findings from the study will help the researchers identify key areas where the pandemic and responses to the pandemic worsened existing issues for people with disabilities. By documenting these issues, this research will uncover the need for disability-inclusive plans to reduce illness and death and lower the health system burden during a pandemic. It will also help identify priority areas for future pandemic planning, which will be presented to stakeholders involved in disabilities and health matters during emergencies.

Portrait photo of Jessica Williams-NguyenPortrait photo of Catherine JarrettThree College of Medicine researchers have received a total of $64,347 in grants through the 2024 New Faculty Seed Grant program. Funded by the WSU Office of Research and the Office of the Provost, the program supports junior faculty in developing research programs that lead to professional development and external funding. Jessica Williams-Nguyen (College of Medicine/IREACH) will map the existing interdisciplinary and transcultural knowledge on Indigenous-centered quantitative research methods and evaluate the readiness of academic and community stakeholders to apply these methods to real-world quantitative studies. Catherine Jarrett (College of Medicine/Nutrition and Exercise Physiology) will study the fitness and cardiovascular health of adults with obesity in Spokane who are undergoing medical weight loss through the use of GLP-1 RAs, a class of medications used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity. Courtney Kurinec (College of Medicine/Sleep and Performance Research Center) will investigate how the ability to make the inferences needed for good decision-making is impacted by two commonly experienced constraints: cognitive load from multitasking and time pressure from deadlines. (See this College of Medicine news story for more details on each of these three projects).

Grant & Contract Award Summary
January 1 – March 31, 2024

This summary provides an overview of funding activity in the third quarter of this fiscal year, which covers awards for new and continuing research and other sponsored projects received between January 1 and March 31.
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