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The Evidence

A major initiative to meet the health needs of the underserved. A Writing Program ranked among the nation’s top 20 for more than a decade. The creation of new technology that elevates the quality of ready-to-eat, packaged food. Researchers who are playing a vital role in the effort to eradicate rabies from the planet.

Those are a handful of examples of WSU-led efforts that transform lives and better society. There are dozens more similar stories—from across the University’s statewide campuses and throughout its colleges, centers, institutes, and departments. Read on to learn more.

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Health Sciences

At the forefront of research to unravel the mystery of sleep

At the internationally recognized Sleep and Performance Research Center (SPRC) on the Health Sciences Spokane campus of Washington State University, basic and applied scientists study sleep and wakefulness to answer critical questions about the effects of reduced and displaced sleep on performance and health.

The research seeks to understand the neurobiology of sleep and sleep loss and the effect of sleep loss on metabolism, immune function, cognitive performance, and behavior. It aims to find the best ways to ensure adequate, recuperative sleep or mitigate the effects of inadequate sleep.

Major studies for government and industry

Interest in sleep research is growing steadily. SPRC investigators have conducted many studies for government agencies and industry, including the National Institutes of Health, branches of the military, NASA, the Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation, and the trucking and airline industries.

“We all value our wakefulness because it’s so important to be able to do a lot of different things, and there is great virtue in that. But there is also great virtue in getting sleep because getting enough sleep makes our wakefulness so much better and more productive.”

— Hans Van Dongen, Director
Sleep and Performance Research Center
Washington State University

Recent work by the SPRC for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration led the Department of Transportation to adopt new federal regulations that extend the rest period for truck drivers working night shifts.

The SPRC connects research programs on sleep and cognitive performance across seven WSU colleges, including more than a dozen core faculty, nearly as many affiliated faculty, and numerous staff and students.

Tackling the Grand Challenges

A recent investment of $29 million in institutional funds by Washington State University in several multi-disciplinary research projects will serve as a springboard to advancing the University’s Grand Challenges research initiative.

“These research efforts help us set exciting new directions for the University’s quest to create and share new knowledge”

— Kirk Schulz, President
Washington State University

The research, to be funded over five years, capitalizes on the institution’s fundamental and research strengths, while focusing research, innovation, and creativity in specific areas to achieve broad societal impact.

The research projects are expected to enhance federal funding of research, increase impactful publications, facilitate commercialization activities, and incent faculty recruitment.

Four major initiatives

  • Functional Genomics Initiative: Will marshal the emerging science of genome editing to control diseases in large animals to feed a growing world population while supporting life sciences across the University, including the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
  • Community Health Analytics Initiative: Will boost WSU’s ability to analyze “big data” to promote information-based health care research, specifically in the area of microbial resistant bacteria.
  • Research Collaborative for Addressing Health Disparities Initiative: Will tackle the persistent and damaging health disparities that grow out of poverty and discrimination.
  • Green Stormwater Initiative: Will address the deleterious effects of stormwater and develop effective measures to address one of the most pervasive and challenging sources of water pollution affecting the globe.

Two smaller initiatives

  • Nutritional Genomics and Smart Foods Initiative
  • Holistic Approach to Developing Smarter Cities Initiative

Revolutionizing the field of bone replacement materials

Washington State University scientists Susmita Bose and Amit Bandyopadhyay and their research team are transforming the way we create bone replacement materials. And that’s great news for everyone from millennials to senior citizens.

The researchers are combining minerals, biomolecules, and drugs, and then using 3D printers to create longer-lasting and more biocompatible bone-like materials. That means improved joint replacements and stronger bone implants.

Interdisciplinary research critical to success

The interdisciplinary research involves collaboration among faculty with expertise in chemistry, biology, materials science, mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and veterinary medicine. The research team includes physicians from the Stanford University and University of Washington medical schools, and graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines, providing the students with hands-on learning experience that benefits their career plans.

“Many technologies Susmita has developed are poised to make significant advances to the standard of care for patients needing orthopedic device implants or other surgical intervention to correct skeletal disorders.”

— Michael Kessler
Berry Family Director and Professor
WSU School of Mechanical and
Materials Engineering

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded Dr. Bose a $1.8 million grant that will enable her team to continue refining the makeup of the calcium phosphate-based coating used for the implant materials.

The research has attracted the attention of media worldwide, including BBC, NPR, and MSNBC. Dr. Bose currently holds six patents for medical devices. She’s published more than 220 journal articles. Medical device manufacturers are excited about the technology.

Addressing the health and well-being of the underserved

Washington State University’s efforts to serve the health needs of underserved populations took a major step forward in August 2016. That’s when Dedra Buchwald, a professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, received a $10 million grant to work with American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities to reduce health risks related to high blood pressure.

Dr. Buchwald will use the grant from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities to create one of two Transdisciplinary Collaborative Centers for Health Disparities Research on Chronic Disease Prevention. The other center will be at Michigan State University.

Engaging communities, honoring values

Dr. Buchwald and co-investigator Spero Manson, University of Colorado Denver, plan to engage community members at all levels of the research process. All of their study communities experience elevated rates of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, so the new center will focus on blood pressure control.

“This is important work that resonates with WSU’s historic land-grant mission.”

—John Roll, Senior Vice Chancellor
WSU Health Sciences Spokane

The investigators will create new scientific collaborations and enhance existing relationships with health care researchers who work with the underserved populations. The work will promote “scientifically rigorous, culturally informed” investigations that respond to community needs and honor community values.

Dr. Buchwald is the founder and director of the Initiative for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), a WSU program dedicated to conducting transdisciplinary research, education, and training to improve the health and well-being of underserved populations in Washington and across the United States. The program moved to WSU Spokane from the University of Washington last year.

Making inroads into alcohol and drug addiction

The Washington State University Program of Excellence in Addictions Research (PEAR) continually makes significant research contributions to the field of alcohol and drug addiction.

Part of the College of Nursing’s expanding research portfolio, PEAR manages some of WSU Spokane’s largest health science projects and is nationally and internationally affiliated with more than 30 investigators. The transdisciplinary addiction science program ranges in disciplinary representation from health policy and economics to experimental pharmacotherapeutics and human toxicology.

Founded in 2006 by John Roll, an internationally recognized expert in the field of drug and alcohol abuse, PEAR advances innovative, scientifically rigorous approaches to understanding, treatment, and prevention of addictions. Celestina Barbosa-Leiker currently directs the program.

“Prevention and treatment work, and people recover—and we must ensure all those seeking help feel empowered, encouraged, and confident . . .”

—Barrack Obama, President
United States
Presidential proclamation, August 2015

One of PEAR’s most far-reaching efforts to date is the creation of the Collaborative Action Toward Community Health (CATCH). CATCH supports research and training aimed at treating mental health and substance abuse in rural American Indian communities. It was established by WSU and the University of Washington in 2012 with funding from the National Institute on Minority Health Disparities (NIMHD), an organization supporting research addressing the elimination of health disparities and the improvement of minority health.

Dr. Roll’s work has focused on human behavior pharmacology, the development and refinement of behavioral interventions for addiction and other psychiatric disorders, as well as technology transfer issues. His research has been funded by NIH, DOJ, BJA, CDC, SAMHSA, and the state of Washington’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

Communication leadership critical to a democratic society

As part of its efforts to provide the ethical and socially responsible communication leadership that underpins a democratic society and a global community, the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University conducts some of the nation’s leading communication research.

  • Murrow research programs are listed in the Top 10 nationally in 27 of the 99 research areas noted by the Communication Institute for Online Scholarship (CIOS). CIOS recognizes Murrow as a Tier 1 program for research on the effects of advertising, substance abuse prevention, and media literacy.
  • The Murrow College is among the top 3 percent of communication programs for research and development expenditures, according to the 2012 National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development Survey (HERD).
  • Murrow is among the nation’s top 33 percent of communication programs based on article citations by faculty members (Allen, Maier & Grimes, 2012).

Grand Challenges-related research

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”

— Edward R. Murrow
Famed journalist and alumnus,
Washington State University

Murrow faculty members are active participants in multiple interdisciplinary research efforts at WSU, including Prevention Science, the Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach (CEREO), and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program (ADARP). The efforts support health- and science-related Grand Challenges and also contribute to student education and retention.

The Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion Research (and related research) examines how people use media messages in their decisions about health, and how health promotion practitioners can maximize the effectiveness of health messages targeting young people and their families.