With the appointment of key personnel, Washington State University (WSU) Health Sciences and Team Gleason signaled additional progress this week toward opening the Steve Gleason Institute for Neurosciences in Spokane’s University District.

Marcos Frank, Ph.D., WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine Biomedical Sciences department professor and chair, has been named interim director of the Gleason Institute. His appointment coincides with an influx of recent interest from health, biomedical and financial institutions seeking partnership. This signifies collaborative growth toward advancing neurodegenerative research in the region.

“Growing partnerships and continued investments in the institute are bolstering a unique environment for interdisciplinary brain research,” Frank said. “As its interim director, I’m eager to deepen our understanding of the brain and how it works at its most basic level, as well as how it fails due to disease or through the aging process.”

The incidence of neurodegenerative disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which former WSU and NFL star Steve Gleason was diagnosed with in 2011, is expected to soar as the population ages. These conditions affect millions of Americans and account for billions of dollars in health care costs each year. This increases the urgency to expand treatment options, develop care innovations and ultimately find a cure.

In January 2019, WSU Health Sciences and Team Gleason announced formal collaboration around the institute and outlined its three facets:

  • Clinical Research and Care Unit —
    focusing on motor and cognitive therapy and supporting clinical trials of new medications and treatments
  • Assistive Technology and Smart Home Center —
    for patient exposure, training, and the advancement of augmented reality, virtual reality, brain‑machine interfaces and prosthetic devices
  • Discovery Research Unit —
    including laboratories and shared facilities for scientists and support staff

The institute will involve faculty from across WSU Health Sciences’ three Spokane-based colleges and associated expertise in medicine, nursing and pharmaceutical sciences. Faculty will also collaborate with health science programs housed in Tri‑Cities, Vancouver, Everett, Walla Walla and Yakima, in addition to utilizing statewide partnerships with hospitals, industry, government and other universities. Applying the knowledge of additional WSU biologists, chemists, physicists, engineers, computer scientists, and social scientists complements the institute’s interdisciplinary approach.

As interim director, Frank will be responsible for providing the overall direction and vision for the institute, in addition to furthering partnerships and investments among local, state and federal agencies and organizations. He will bolster leadership and staff positions that will ultimately build and sustain the institute.

Andrea Lazarus, Ph.D., WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences pharmacotherapy professor and and associate vice president for WSU Health Sciences, was also appointed to a leadership position in the institute as its administrative executive director. In this role, Lazarus will have administrative oversight for the institute’s infrastructure, including cross-campus coordination of neuroscience-related research. Partnerships will also play a crucial part in her role as she works to bring together neurodegenerative disease stakeholders and align them.

Said WSU Health Sciences Chancellor, Daryll DeWald, “Spokane was already a natural incubator for these types of partnerships and innovation. The institute’s new leadership, in working with the community, have a rare opportunity to more fully leverage existing work and better harness the expertise of numerous professionals advancing neuroscience concepts around treatments and cures. This is how the Steve Gleason Institute for Neurosciences will put Spokane more indelibly on the map in terms of improving the lives of people with debilitating brain diseases worldwide.”

“These leadership appointments come at a time when neuroscience at WSU Health Sciences is solidifying and advancing,” concluded DeWald. “The combined expertise of doctors Frank and Lazarus are foundational to our vision of building a world‑class institute that will make profound changes in the care and diagnosis, and ultimately the treatments of, brain diseases.”

Fundraising is underway to expand operations, complete building renovations and launch research and patient‑care operations.

WSU Health Sciences and Team Gleason are joined in this collaboration by community partners Avista, Health Sciences & Services Authority of Spokane County (HSSA), Providence Health Care, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, MultiCare, the City of Spokane and the University District.

Gleason Institute’s administrative offices are currently housed at 325 E. Sprague Ave., in a building owned by Avista Development and leased by WSU Health Sciences Spokane. The location is at the south end of the new University District Gateway Bridge, expanding WSU’s mission of health education, research and care into what is expected to become a vibrant South Campus community in coming years.

Media contact:

  • Kim Papich, director of communications and public affairs, WSU Health Sciences Spokane, 509‑368‑6671 or 509‑202‑3955, kim.papich@wsu.edu