Six Washington State University faculty will research issues in genetics, cancer, nutrition, autism, and pediatric health, funded by a new seed grant system created by WSU Spokane.

The seed grant program encourages faculty to develop research programs in Spokane that have the potential for extramural support, particularly from the National Institutes of Health. Their research will provide the preliminary data that researchers say is critical to support applications for competitive funding.

“The NIH and other federal funding sources conduct highly competitive proposal processes,” said Dennis Dyck, associate dean for research at WSU Spokane and co-chair of the seed grant program. “We used the same scoring method and the same type of independent peer review as the NIH in reaching our decision. Even for those faculty who weren’t funded, this was a learning experience that will make them more competitive in the future.”

Factors assessed in the study proposal reviews included significance, approach, degree of innovation, the investigator’s ability to carry out the project, and the environment in which the research will take place.

“Critical to several of these proposals was the ability to partner with area physicians to recruit participants for the study,” Dyck said. “These projects reinforce the importance of translational and applied clinical research that takes advantage both of research university faculty expertise, and the significant health-care system in Spokane.”

Seed grant contributions came from the WSU College of Nursing, WSU College of Pharmacy, and the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training. Awarded funds totaled $34,000. WSU Spokane hopes to continue the fund with help from private donors interested in health science research.

Funded projects
Following is a list and brief description of funded projects

• “Impact of a Complementary/Alternative Group-Based Intervention on Breast Cancer: Immunological and Biopsycho-social Outcomes,” investigated by Sally Blank, associate professor of exercise science, and Mel Haberman, associate dean for research and professor at WSU College of Nursing/Intercollegiate College of Nursing.

Psychosocial variables can impact not only quality of life of women with breast cancer, but also the course of the disease itself. This study addresses the negative effect of stress and anxiety on 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.

Because Herceptin relies, in part, on 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,” investigated by Jacquelyn Banasik, post-doctoral fellow in exercise science and associate professor at WSU College of Nursing/Intercollegiate College of Nursing.

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. This study extends the research undertaken by Blank and Haberman on the effects of hatha yoga on women with breast cancer who are 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. 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,” investigated by Ruth Bindler, associate professor at WSU College of Nursing/Intercollegiate College of Nursing.

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. Typical pediatric 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.

Characteristics of type 2 diabetes are also observed in cardiovascular disease. So children who are overweight, physically inactive, show hypertension, have a skin shading called acanthosis nigricans, or have high glucose, insulin, and lipid blood levels, 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,” investigated by Janet Beary, assistant professor of nutrition.

The effect of diet on bladder function has not been carefully studied. 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.

Such symptoms interfere with work, personal life and sleep, and thus negatively impact quality of life. Annual medical expense and lost wage estimates run as high as $1.7 billion, with 90 percent of patients being women. Medications are only partially successful in relieving symptoms, and have side effects that negatively affect quality of life.

• “Role of Calneuron in Autism,” investigated by Lisa Shaffer, research professor at the Health Research and Education Center and the School of Molecular Biosciences.

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. 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 disorders.

Identification of the genetic causes of autism would provide new diagnostic tools for identifying individuals susceptible to 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 treatments.