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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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Top research coverage of 2023

January 31, 2024

Whiskey being poured over ice in a glassWhisky, contraception, cannabis: many of the Washington State University studies that garnered the most attention from news media in 2023 seemed to involve human pleasures — and their consequences. That focus may say something about the global mood in the first post-pandemic year, but it also speaks to the real-world impact of WSU’s research enterprise.
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Protein discovery could help solve prostate cancer drug resistance

January 22, 2024

Image of unidentifiable doctor talking to patient about prostate cancer, with illustration shown on a tabletResearchers have identified a receptor protein known as CHRM1 as a key player in prostate cancer cells’ resistance to docetaxel, a commonly used chemotherapy drug to treat advanced cancer that has spread beyond the prostate. The discovery opens the door to new treatment strategies that could overcome this resistance. This could ultimately help extend the lives of those with prostate cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among men.
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Better mental, physical health in older people tied to living near nature

January 4, 2024

Older couple walking for exercise in a parkEven small differences in the availability of urban green and blue spaces may be associated with better mental and physical health in older adults, according to a Washington State University study.

The study’s findings showed that having just 10% more forest space in a person’s residential ZIP code was associated with reduced serious psychological distress, which covers mental health problems that require treatment and interfere with people’s social lives, work or school. Similarly, a 10% increase in green space, tree cover, water bodies or trail length lowered the chance that older people reported their general health as poor or fair.
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WSU experts offer advice on turning New Year’s resolutions into reality

January 2, 2024

Silhouette of person climbing steep hill at sunsetFrom ancient Babylonians making new commitments to their gods to today’s average office worker pledging to give up soda, humans have been struggling with New Year’s resolutions for a very long time.

Yet there is hope, according to a group of Washington State University experts who offer their insights into keeping positive lifestyle changes going in the weeks and months ahead.
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WSU helping recruit Native people for Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials

December 15, 2023

Researcher Amanda Boyd is shown at a research site near the Arctic circle where she studied health communications in Inuit people.A WSU project to enhance recruitment of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people into clinical trials has received $250,000 for a one-year pilot study. Amanda Boyd, associate professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and co-director of the Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), will lead the effort with colleagues Denise Dillard, Juliana Garcia, and Clemma Muller. The funding will enable the team to create a culturally relevant recruitment framework specific to enrolling AI/AN people into Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) clinical trials and donating biospecimens.
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WIC participation helped families better cope with 2022 infant formula shortage

December 7, 2023

Mother bottle feeding baby boyFamilies that participated in the WIC program—also known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—were much less likely to use potentially unsafe infant feeding practices during the 2022 U.S. infant formula shortage than income-eligible families that did not participate.

Both WIC participants and non-participants reported being affected by the shortage at similar rates, according to a Washington State University study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, the researchers found that WIC participants were significantly more likely to cope with the shortage by changing the brand or type of formula or by getting it from a different source. They were also less likely to use less healthy feeding practices, such as using dairy milk or milk alternatives, watering down formula or using homemade formula.
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WSU scientists helping increase recruitment of Native people for Alzheimer’s research

November 8, 2023

Natives Engaged in Alzheimer’s Research study team members Justina Tavana and Dr. Perry Ridge from Brigham Young University with study participants at the April 2023 Brain Health Event held in American Samoa.A series of culturally tailored workshops designed to provide education on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias have drawn the participation of more than 1,000 Native elders from across the United States in the last two years.

The “Brain Health Events” are a key component of a $14.6 million research effort being led by scientists at the Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) at Washington State University. The goal of the National Institute on Aging funded project is to reduce disparities associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN), and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) groups.
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Epigenetic signature for obesity found in study of twins

November 1, 2023

Women's legs on a scale with measuring tape in the foreground. A susceptibility to gain weight may be written into molecular processes of human cells, a Washington State University study indicates.

The proof-of-concept study with a set of 22 twins found an epigenetic signature in buccal or cheek cells appearing only for the twins who were obese compared to their thinner siblings. With more research, the findings could lead to a simple cheek swab test for an obesity biomarker and enable earlier prevention methods for a condition that effects 50% of U.S. adults, the researchers said.
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Grant will fund training to combat bias in health care

October 31, 2023

Lois James is shown in the WSU nursing simulation lab, where some of the training involved in the study will be done.A $1.3 million grant will enable WSU researchers to study how a training program originally developed for law enforcement can help nurses recognize their unconscious biases.

Lois James, assistant dean of research at the Washington State University College of Nursing, and Stephen James, an assistant professor in the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, recently received the National Institute of Minority Health Disparities grant to adapt their Counter Bias Training Simulation program for use with nurses. Studies have shown that patients can receive different treatment, leading to different outcomes, based on their race, gender, weight, sexual orientation, and other characteristics.
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Lab to test home health technologies, train tech-savvy nurses

October 27, 2023

Abstract image of nurse with tablet and technology icons projectedA new Washington State University laboratory focused on home health technologies could potentially improve health outcomes and quality of life for adults with chronic conditions.

Led by nurse scientists, the Nurse Technology Enhanced Care at Home (NTECH) lab will test off-the-shelf health innovations and develop new technologies to manage chronic conditions at home. Down the line, it will also provide a training ground for aspiring nurse scientists looking to enter the health technology field.
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Test of police implicit bias training shows modest improvement in WSU-led study

October 18. 2023

Image of flashing lights on top of police careA two-part training designed to help police officers recognize their implicit bias, revealed some behavior improvement and lowered citizen discrimination complaints in a controlled study. While a small study involving one police department, it is the first-known research to provide evidence that this type of training can produce positive behavioral effects.
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WSU helping increase diversity of scientists conducting Native health research

October 9, 2023

WSU logoTwo Washington State University projects designed to train a new generation of scholars in Native health have received more than $6 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding as part of the National Institute on Aging’s Resource Center on Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) program. The WSU projects share the overarching objective of increasing the diversity of scientists conducting research with Native populations in the United States.
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Research Highlights

Making an Impact
WSU team to study care of babies exposed to drugs
Close up of unrecognizable young mother with her newborn baby in sling

As overdose deaths from fentanyl are soaring across the nation, researchers at Washington State University Spokane are focusing on a new way to help the youngest victims of the opioid crisis—babies going through substance withdrawal after being exposed before birth, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. Often referred to as NAS, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, including tremors, seizures, poor feeding and excessive crying. If left untreated, it may have long-term impacts on a child’s mental and behavioral health.

As part of a state-supported pilot project, a team of researchers in the WSU colleges of nursing and medicine will spend the next year studying health outcomes at Maddie’s Place, a newly opened, Spokane-based transitional care nursery that provides care and support for drug-exposed babies and moms.
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Researcher on the Rise
Portrait photo of Jessica UllrichQ&A with Jessica Saniguq Ullrich

Despite the distance between Spokane and her Tribe of Nome Eskimo Community, Jessica Saniguq Ullrich’s work has brought her closer to her community. Since January 2023, Ullrich has served as a research assistant professor in the WSU Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), where she is part of a large contingent of Native scholars who are conducting research aimed at reducing health disparities in U.S. Native populations.
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Wake Up with Research section headerJoin us virtually on Wednesday, February 21, 2024, at 8 a.m. for Food for Thought: Exploring the Science behind What We Eat. During this Wake Up with Research event we will be embarking on a flavorful adventure as we delve into the latest research on food, nutrition, and human health. Hear from WSU researchers from around Washington who are working to make life healthier and tastier for us all.

To attend, please RSVP on the Wake Up with Research website.


Media Mentions

Substance use researcher Michael McDonell (College of Medicine) was quoted in an NBC News article about the lack of treatments for addiction to stimulant drugs such as cocaine and meth. McDonell and others in the Promoting Research Initiatives in Substance Use and Mental Health (PRISM) Collaborative are currently helping Washington state to pilot test contingency management—a behavioral treatment that uses gift cards and small prizes to help motivate people to quit using drugs—as a way to treat stimulant drug addiction.

Mary Paine (College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences) was quoted in a Tampa Bay Times investigation on kratom-related overdose deaths in Florida. Paine leads the Center of Excellence for Natural Product Drug Interaction Research (NaPDI Center), an NIH-funded, multidisciplinary center established to develop standardized approaches to study the interactions between natural products and conventional drugs. A herbal substance that can produce opioid- and stimulant-like effects, kratom is one of the high-priority natural products studied by the NaPDI Center.

Glen Duncan (College of Medicine/Program in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology) was quoted in a Spokesman-Review article describing a recent WSU study that suggests that high rates of obesity could be linked epigenetics rather than just diet and exercise. The study used data from 22 sets of identical twins who were enrolled in the Washington State Twin Registry based at WSU. Duncan serves as the director of the registry. He coauthored the study with Michael Skinner from the WSU School of Biological Sciences.

Dawn Kopp (College of Medicine) was quoted in a Seattle Times article highlighting a substantial jump in the number of abortions provided in Washington state in 2022. The article referenced a recent study by Kopp and WSU medical student Maeve Alterio that found that almost half of U.S. women of reproductive age have to drive 30 minutes or more to reach an abortion care facility.

Cole Allick (College of Medicine/IREACH) was featured in CNN article highlighting the University of North Dakota’s Indigenous health doctoral program, a first-of-its-kind program designed to offer students a deeper understanding of the unique health challenges faced by Indigenous communities. A citizen of the northern North Dakota Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Allick was part of the doctoral program’s inaugural class that graduated this past August. At WSU, he serves as a research manager and outreach liaison in IREACH’s Partnerships for Native Health.

Sleep scientists Hans Van Dongen and Jason Gerstner (College of Medicine) were quoted in a Spokesman-Review article on a recent University of Washington study on the effects of sleep duration on cognitive decline.

A Crosscut article on how a new Washington drug law could impact needle exchanges referenced a study led by Ofer Amram (College of Medicine) that found that mortality rates for the 10 leading causes of deaths in the state were higher in Eastern Washington than in Western Washington.

Oregon Public Radio published an article on a study led by Lois James (College of Nursing) that found that anti-bias training could help police officers recognize their implicit bias and improve behavior. The study was also covered by the Lewiston Tribune and other outlets.


Awards & Honors

Portrait photo of Julie PostmaJulie Postma, a professor and associate dean for research in the College of Nursing, has been selected to be part of the National Institutes of Health’s 2024 Climate and Health Scholars Program. Postma was one of just seven established scientists with expertise in climate and health to be selected for this honor. Through September 2024, she and her fellow climate and health scholars will work with NIH staff to share knowledge and help build capacity for conducting climate-related and health research. The goal of this initiative is to reduce health threats from climate change across the lifespan and build health resilience in individuals, communities and nations around the world.

Joshua Neumiller, vice chair and Allen I. White Distinguished Professor in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been appointed to the American Diabetes Association’s national board of directors for 2024. He will serve the board as president-elect for health care and education. Neumiller conducts research related to patient care for diabetes and kidney disease. This includes clinical and translational projects that look at multidisciplinary care approaches that use pharmacist services to improve care and outcomes in people with diabetes and/or kidney disease.

Portrait photo of Jae KennedyJae Kennedy, a professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine’s Department of Community and Behavioral Health, received the Advancing Equity in Research Award during the WSU Research Week Awards Ceremony held in October. He was given the award in recognition of his decades of leadership working to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities. This includes his work establishing the Collaborative on Health Reform and Independent Living and, more recently, a successful advocacy campaign to officially designate people with disabilities as an NIH health disparity population. WSU’s Research Week Awards are given to recognize outstanding WSU researchers and administration for their successful contributions to WSU’s mission as a land-grant research institution and the impact they have made in their fields and their communities and at WSU.

Portrait photo of Sandhya SubashPortrait photo of Shelby CoatesTwo researchers in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences were selected as highlighted trainee authors in the scientific journals that published their research. PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences student Shelby Coates (left) was the highlighted trainee author in the November 2023 issue of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Research associate Sandhya Subash (right) was the highlighted trainee author for the October 2023 issue of Drug Metabolism and Disposition. Both journals are published by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), a scientific society with more than 4,000 members who are engaged in pharmacology research.


WSU Showcase logoEach year, Academic Showcase and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) Research Exposition celebrate original scholarship, research and creative expression across WSU’s academic community. Faculty, staff and graduate and professional students: Join us! Share your work with your WSU colleagues at these in-person poster sessions. Submit your abstracts by Wed., Jan. 17, 2024, at 11:59 p.m. and save the date. Both poster sessions will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday, March 28, 2024.


Publication Highlight

(The article below is a National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Spotlight that is republished here with permission. It describes a study led by College of Medicine/IREACH researchers Solmaz Amiri and Dedra Buchwald that was published in the journal Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders).

Study Shows More American Indian and Alaska Native People Together Associated with Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Mortality

Given estimates of a fivefold increase in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) diagnoses among American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people by 2060, researchers in a new NIMHD study examined whether social determinants of health (SDOH) account for these disparities. SDOH are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age that are known to drive health outcomes. Evidence of SDOH is essential to improving health and advancing health equity.

Researchers used the CDC National Vital Statistics System to conduct a longitudinal analysis of AD mortality rates for AI/AN populations from 2011 to 2019 at the county level, then compared the data to measures for percentage of AI/AN people, the availability of physicians at the county level, area deprivation index and rural-urban continuum codes.

In the 646 Indian Health Service purchased/referred care delivery area counties examined, there were 3,024 deaths among AI/AN people. The mortality rate increased by 22% during the nine years studied. Interestingly, the researchers’ analyses also revealed a 20% lower risk for AD mortality for AI/AN people living in rural counties. An unexpected finding was the more AI/AN people living in a county, the fewer deaths from AD. For every 10% increase in the percentage of AI/AN people, researchers discovered a 14% lower risk for AD mortality. More deprived counties had a 34% higher risk for AD mortality compared with less deprived counties.

Together, these results lead researchers to call for future studies examining the extent to which community resilience may be a protective factor against AD among AI/AN people. Comprehensive efforts to increase AD care access and awareness of the disease in AI/AN people living in rural areas are needed.


Funding Highlights

Portrait photo of Marian WilsonLed by Marian Wilson (College of Nursing), a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Medicine has received a $679,500 grant from the Washington State Health Care Authority for a project focused on improving pain care for Washingtonians. This 18-month project will support healthcare provider training and education to reduce inappropriate opioid prescriptions while maintaining access for people who need opioids. As part of the project, the WSU team will develop and implement web-based opioid and pain prevention training for all health sciences students in the state and develop a central, web-based repository of resources for pain self-management for patients, providers and community members. In addition, the team will offer evidence-based programs to help primary care providers better manage people with pain, allowing them to continue to provide care to patients on chronic opioid therapy. This work will support the goals outlined in Washington State’s Opioid and Overdose Response Plan, which include prevention of opioid misuse and ensuring and improving the health and wellness of people who use opioids and other drugs.

Portrait photo of Pablo MonsivaisA team of researchers led by associate professor Pablo Monsivais (College of Medicine) has received a 9-month, $202,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Health for a study aimed at understanding social inequities in COVID-19 burden. Public health agencies and decision-makers have limited data to help them grasp the full extent of COVID-19 infection in communities, which is a key concern given that the disease can be spread asymptomatically. Based on a partnership between WSU researchers, the City of Spokane and Spokane County, and the Spokane Regional Health District, this study will determine the feasibility of measuring and monitoring the presence of the SARS CoV-2 virus in wastewater to identify neighborhood-level disparities in COVID-19 disease burden in Spokane County. The researchers will measure SARS CoV-2 in wastewater samples and relate these measurements to area-level demographic and health profiles to determine whether sociodemographic risk factors such as a higher percentage of poverty are tied to an increased COVID-19 disease burden in certain neighborhoods. This approach will provide more spatially detailed information about SARS-CoV-2 infection to assist decision-makers, as well as lay the groundwork for mass monitoring SARS-CoV-2 infection using a low-cost, non-invasive method that complements diagnostic testing.

Portrait photo of Elizabeth MedinaElizabeth Medina, a PhD in neuroscience student who conducts research in the laboratory of Lucia Peixoto (College of Medicine) has received a two-year $95,388 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke—an agency within the National Institutes of Health. The award represents a Blueprint and BRAIN Initiative Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award that supports outstanding graduate students from diverse backgrounds. This F99 phase of this two-phase award provides funding for Medina to complete her doctoral dissertation, with an opportunity to apply for up to four more years of K00 funding to support a transition to a neuroscience postdoctoral position. Medina’s dissertation research is aimed at better understanding sleep problems in autism spectrum disorder. Up to 93 percent of individuals with autism spectrum disorders report sleep problems, which worsen quality of life and core autism symptoms and can precede an autism diagnosis. Medina will use a genetic mouse model of autism spectrum disorder to study the adverse effects of early-life sleep deprivation on gene transcription and underlying molecular processes in autism spectrum disorder, which have been poorly understood. Findings from this research could potentially open the door to targeted interventions to mitigate the negative consequences of disturbed sleep in autism spectrum disorder.


Grant & Contract Award Summary
October 1 – December 31, 2023

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 October 1 and December 31.
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