SPOKANE, Wash. — Six Washington State University faculty will undertake health sciences research projects in genetics, cancer, nutrition, autism, and pediatric health, funded by a new seed grant system created by WSU Spokane.

Funded projects:

“Impact of a Complementary/Alternative Group-Based Intervention on Breast Cancer: Immunological and Biopsychosocial Outcomes”

Investigators: Sally Blank, associate professor, exercise science, and Mel Haberman, associate dean for research and professor, WSU College of Nursing/Intercollegiate College of Nursing.

This study addresses the negative effect of stress and anxiety on the functioning of the immune system in women with advanced breast cancer who are taking Herceptin. Researchers will examine the influence of hatha yoga on immune system and quality of life outcomes.

Significance: The evidence is clear that psychosocial variables can impact not only quality of life of women with breast cancer, but also the course of the disease itself. Results of this study could improve understanding of the interaction between psychological variables and immune function. Due to the activity of Herceptin in the body, which relies in part upon certain immune cells, alternative/complementary interventions that improve quality of life, reduce stress, and ameliorate depression may improve response to Herceptin therapy.

“Impact of a Complementary/Alternative Group-Based Intervention on IL-6, IL-6 Soluble Receptor, Cortisol and Psychosocial Functioning in Women with Stage III and Stage IV Breast Cancer.”

Investigator: Jacquelyn Banasik, postdoctoral fellow, WSU Spokane exercise science program, and associate professor, WSU College of Nursing/Intercollegiate College of Nursing.

This study extends the research undertaken by Blank and Haberman on the effects of hatha yoga on women with breast cancer taking Herceptin. Banasik’s study will explore two biochemical signaling molecules, cortisol and interleukin-6, that may have an effect on the interactions between psychosocial factors and immune function.

Significance: Interventions that improve psychosocial functioning in women with advanced breast cancer may contribute to improved response to therapy, decreased morbidity, and longer survival through improved tumor suppression. The two studies taken together are the first to investigate how relieving stress influences cell-mediated cytotoxicity (the extent to which an agent kills certain cells), which is known to influence the growth of tumor cells directly.

“Identification of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Risk in Children”

Investigator: Ruth Bindler, associate professor, WSU College of Nursing/Intercollegiate College of Nursing.

Typical pediatric clinic and office screenings do not successfully identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. This study will implement an expanded physical assessment for children and evaluate the ability of the program to identify children at risk of developing these diseases.

Significance: Within the last few years, type 2 diabetes—nearly unheard of in children—has been the cause of nearly one-half of the new cases of diabetes diagnosed in children. Characteristics of type 2 diabetes are also observed in cardiovascular disease, so children with the characteristics—overweight, physical inactivity, hypertension, high glucose, insulin, and lipid blood levels, and a skin shading called acanthosis nigricans—are at risk of developing both diseases. Exposure to smoking promotes cardiovascular disease and can worsen the effects of diabetes.

“Effects of Decaffeinated Coffee and Citrus Foods/Beverages on Irritative Voiding Symptoms of the Bladder.”

Investigator: Janet Beary, assistant professor, nutrition.

This study will test the effects of coffee acids and citrus fruits and beverages in the diet, and document what causative relationship occurs between these and irritative voiding symptoms.

Significance: The effect of diet on bladder function has not been carefully studied, despite the fact that many waste products of metabolism and chemicals ingested in the diet are eliminated through the urinary tract. Irritative voiding symptoms interfere with work, personal life and sleep, and thus negatively impact quality of life. It’s estimated that $1.7 billion annually is spent in medical expenses and lost wages, with 90 percent of patients being women. Medications are only partially successful in relieving symptoms, and have side effects that also affect quality of life negatively.

“Role of Calneuron in Autism”

Investigator: Lisa Shaffer, research professor, Health Research and Education Center and WSU School of Molecular Biosciences

A particular gene, Calneuron, is expressed only in the brain, in particular brain structures and cells that are abnormal in patients with autism. This study will look for deletions and mutations in Calneuron, examining both patients with and without autism, to determine whether the gene is implicated in autistic disorders.

Significance: Autism and associated behaviors occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals. More than one-half million people in the United States today have autism or some form of pervasive developmental disorder. Identification of the genetic causes of autism would provide new diagnostic tools for identifying individuals susceptible to having autism, allow for early intervention, identify inheritance patterns in families to assist in genetic counseling and reproductive planning, and perhaps provide novel therapeutic strategies for future treatments.

For more information about the WSU Spokane Faculty Seed Grant Program go to: http://www.wsunews.wsu.edu/detail.asp?StoryID=3251.