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Teamwork drives sleep-study success

Interactions between the principal scientists for WSU’s sleep research program. VCAPP is the department of Veterinary and Comparative Anatomy, Pharmacology and Physiology. (Diagram courtesy of James Krueger).
James Krueger talks teamwork like any other major league coach when he describes the faculty collaboration that forms the core of WSU’s highly successful sleep research program.

“The researchers on our team have a variety of expertise, and we weave that expertise together,” said Krueger, professor of neuroscience at the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “This collaboration brings together the best from each discipline, and the result is much better science. Building a team across disciplines really expands the horizon of what is possible.”

Krueger has been building the sleep research team for 15 years. Now rivaled only by similar collaborations at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, this WSU team has, in just the last three years, scored more than $10 million in grants to investigate fundamental questions about sleeping.

Teamwork rewarded
Much of that funding success comes from interdisciplinary teamwork.

“Granting organizations think beyond the traditional disciplines,” Krueger said. “Collaborative research — that is what is being funded now.

“Organizing a university through the traditional disciplines is obsolete,” he continued. “Somehow, we have to put people together who share an interest in a problem. Perhaps this kind of faculty collaboration is an answer.”

Two networks
To explain how faculty collaboration works for WSU sleep research, Krueger describes two connected networks. One is the lab team level, like his own sleep lab at the CVM on the Pullman campus.

The larger collaboration, known as the Sleep and Performance Research Center (see adjacent diagram),  includes other faculty and their labs on both the Pullman and Spokane campuses, as well as at multiple off-campus sites at university and corporate labs.

Krueger’s own lab is a network of collaboration based upon nine doctoral-level faculty who have expertise in six scientific fields. These areas of expertise include sleep physiology, molecular techniques, cell biology, host defense, neuroanatomy and endocrinology. Krueger describes himself as the manager of the team that includes the faculty researchers from those fields, in addition to dozens of laboratory technicians and graduate students.

Interdependent success
The larger network that comprises the center is based upon several faculty labs: Krueger’s in Pullman; associate professor David Rector’s lab (also in the CVM); and  the Sleep Research Center at the Spokane campus headed by Gregory Belenky, director, and including associate director Hans Van Dongen, and Bryan Vila, professor of criminal justice. 

In addition, Krueger lists dozens of faculty in other WSU departments (for example, physics and electrical engineering) and at other universities and corporations that are included on grant projects as needed.

“We are all dependent upon one another for our continued success,” Krueger said. “In fact, our salaries depend on the success of our science and our grants. Very little of our research and our labs and our salaries have state money behind them.”

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