Medical alliance assembles

In a move to leverage the significant health care sector in Spokane and the presence of Washington State University and other educational and research institutions in the region, an alliance focused on medical research will be established in Spokane. Dennis Dyck, associate dean for research at WSU Spokane, has been named the initial coordinator.

An 8-member local steering committee appointed by Rep. George Nethercutt has been working to frame the concept. Tony Bonanzino, CEO of Hollister-Stier Laboratories LLC, chairs the committee.

The Spokane Alliance for Medical Research (SAMR) represents a collaboration among:
• private and state colleges and universities,
• the medical health service and research centers in Spokane,
• public and private biotechnology research and development centers and institutes in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.

Jim Petersen, vice provost for research at WSU, led efforts to formulate the principles for identifying areas of research with potential for long-term funding and opportunities for translational research.

These principles require that programs considered for emphasis must build upon demonstrated competitive research strength (funding level of $1 million/year or more over time), have the potential for national prominence and build on known strengths in clinical programs in Spokane.

SAMR backers also expect enhanced clinical opportunities for medical care providers, and economic development through spin-off companies and development of new treatment protocols that increase Spokane’s profile as a destination medical center.

Sleep research no snoozer

Sleep research rose to the top as an area with great potential, having been identified as one of the programs that best meets these criteria. This research builds on basic science research being led by James Krueger on the WSU Pullman campus and work by other regional experts, and provides opportunity to apply that research in human populations.

Sleep studies are an area of increasing interest and funding, said Krueger. “What’s surprising is how little we know about the scientific relationship between sleep and performance.”

Other research areas that could be targeted for development include diabetes, the biology of reproductive cancers, cancer treatment and prevention, application of information technology to the health care industry, and production of pharmaceutical products with plant systems.

Nethercutt, a strong supporter of the consortium from its inception, helped earmark $50,000 in congressional start-up funds. INTEC, a Spokane technology education and economic development organization, has pledged another $20,000, planning to help address the workforce development needs of the initiative.

The funds will be used to recruit one or more translational researchers to head up the effort and to build collaborations necessary for success. Faculty will pursue project program grants from the National Institutes of Health and other sources.

Dyck adds, “Through collaboration, we will extend the impact of medical research on the Spokane economy, and improve the health of individuals as well as the health of the region and our higher education and health care systems.”

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