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WSU Research Sustaining Health

Sustaining health

The uncompromising pursuit of healthier people and communities

The challenge

Scientific discoveries in the past century have enabled an unprecedented increase in human longevity. But along with advances have come the challenges of chronic health problems and skyrocketing health care costs.

WSU’s role in the solution

Solving health challenges is a key initiative of WSU research. University scholars work to advance the physical and mental health of individuals and communities. Researchers in the WSU colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Veterinary Medicine—and now the new College of Medicine—collaborate across disciplines to find new ways to prevent and treat diseases. Their synergy of ideas may yield new answers to health questions that affect us all.

Fundamental research expands our understanding of the bases of health, wellness, and disease. The College of Medicine will focus on biomedical research in a range of fields, including neuroscience, molecular biology, biochemical genetics, and more. In many disciplines, researchers probe the social, cultural, and environmental determinants of health and wellness. Investigations increasingly emphasize public health, both domestic and global.

Applied research in the health sciences promotes wellbeing. Outreach programs translate research findings into effective interventions and policy. WSU faculty train and work with healthcare providers in medically underserved communities, optimizing healthcare delivery and preventative healthcare in at-risk regions of the state.

Within this Grand Challenge, scholars address several research themes, touching on issues like these:

Onset and progression of disease

  • The fundamental biology of life
  • The molecular and cellular bases of disease
  • From brain to behavior
  • Advanced materials and health

More about disease onset

  • Tasmanian Devil Tasmanian devils evolve to resist deadly cancer

    Exploring evolutionary genetics to stop disease

    Ornery marsupials about the size of a small dog, Tasmanian devils reign as the dominant carnivore on their native island of Tasmania, 150 miles south of Australia. But in the past 2 decades, these ferocious creatures have faced a lethal threat: a fast-spreading, contagious cancer.

    Devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) causes painful red welts to erupt on the animal’s mouth and head. Victims become unable to eat. They either starve to death or suffocate. Spreading like a virus, DFTD has wiped out 80 percent of Tasmanian devils in the wild. Epidemiological studies said that extinction was inevitable.

    But some … » More …

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  • A closeup of Sue Ritter in a lab Understanding obesity and eating disorders

    Studies shed new light on conditions that afflict hundreds of millions worldwide

    Through its premiere College of Veterinary Medicine, WSU has been a leader of translational and biomedical research, including collaborative and comparative research that has direct application to human health. Neuroscientists Bob and Sue Ritter, researchers in Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience and members of the Washington State Academy of Sciences, have devoted their careers to studying the complex hormonal and neurological pathways of appetite and satiation. With funding from the National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive Diseases and Kidney and the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, they are probing the fundamental processes … » More …

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Changing the course of disease

  • Novel therapeutic strategies
  • Pharmacogenomics and individualized therapies
  • Innovative solutions to infectious disease

More about treating disease

  • Grant Trobridge Predicting the Progression of Cancers

    Pharmacy research paves way for genetic tests

    Physicians may soon have another diagnostic tool to help treat cancer patients, thanks to a new partnership between WSU and a genetic testing company based in India. Under a recently signed licensing agreement, Datar Genetics Ltd. will use a set of genes identified by College of Pharmacy researchers to develop tests to predict prostate cancer recurrence and breast cancer survival. The partnership was facilitated by the WSU Office of Commercialization, which is looking for additional licensing partners in other countries.

    The research that led to the identification of the 20 genes was conducted in the lab of Grant Trobridge, … » More …

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  • A closeup of Herbert Hill Ion mobility spectrometry

    Investigating one of society’s most powerful workhorses

    On a cool evening last April, at exactly 8:01 p.m., the International Space Station traced a bright silver arc over Pullman. Inside, a small sensor scanned the air for hazardous vapors and relayed the data to flight controllers in Houston.

    Meanwhile, 200 miles below in the Syrian desert, soldiers searched through rubble carrying a handheld device that sounds an alarm in the presence of chemical warfare agents. At airport security gates and customs stations all over the world, similar devices sniff out explosives and narcotics.

    The technology behind those detectors is called ion mobility spectrometry or IMS. While … » More …

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Individual health and wellness

  • Healthful foods and nutrition
  • Health literacy
  • Behavioral, social, and cultural influencers of health

More about health and wellness

  • child in rem sleep REM sleep vital for young brains

    Sleep’s final stage key to development

    A recent study of the role of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in the development of young brains suggests that it makes experiences “stick” in the brain. The discovery was published in Science Advances by Professor of Medicine Marcos Frank and his former graduate student Michelle Dumoulin Bridi.

    Frank said their findings emphasize the importance of REM sleep in early life and point to a need for caution in giving young children REM-suppressing medications like antidepressants and stimulants for ADHD.

    The idea for Frank’s study came from earlier research that suggested a relationship between sleep and developmental brain … » More …

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  • A group photo of two women and a man talking Happier humans

    Across cultures, introverts benefit from social behavior

    Humanity can be roughly divided into 2 personality camps: introverts and extroverts. Generally speaking, introverts prefer small groups of friends, enjoy stretches of solitude, and may feel drained by the expansive socializing that fuels the more numerous extrovert camp.

    There’s a common stereotype that assumes introverts are antisocial or fundamentally unhappy. But studies show that introverts aren’t antisocial; like extroverts, they experience higher levels of happiness when they engage in outgoing behaviors. However, those studies were done in the U.S. and other Western countries with similar cultural values.

    WSU professor Timothy Church wanted to see if these personality-related … » More …

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Healthy communities and populations

  • Interventions to improve public health and wellness outcomes
  • Health care access in rural and underserved areas
  • Food safety and biosecurity
  • Reproductive sciences
  • Global animal health

More about healthy communities

  • A close up of a researcher working in a lab Connecting communities for health

    Join us April 18 at WSU Innovators in Seattle to learn more about how WSU’s work in Africa affects health in North America

    Attend WSU Innovators to hear from two researchers working with Dr. Call, as well as Dr. Guy Palmer, the Allen School’s co-founder and senior director for global health at WSU. Tina Vlasaty of the Washington Global Health Alliance will moderate the panel.

    The panelists will discuss the global-to-local approach needed to curb the emergence of antimicrobial resistance, and WSU’s role in developing solutions.

    Learn more and register for this free event at

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  • Young lady being treated in hospital bed Stopping the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

    Advancing the health of communities worldwide

    For decades, doctors have trusted antibiotic medicines to fight Infectious bacteria, saving lives and restoring health. Lately, though, the drugs often fail. To blame are newly emerging antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    Drug-resistant bacterial infections cause nearly 23,000 deaths annually in the United States. Globally the annual death toll could be as high as 700,000.

    WSU is part of global effort

    Stopping antimicrobial resistance (AMR) requires a global effort. Washington State University is helping to lead the charge.

    In the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, where experts study the emergence and spread of disease, researchers are examining the role … » More …

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Numerous public and private organizations collaborate with WSU to advance health science research and provide medical education. These partnerships enable new discoveries that fight disease, promote wellness, and address public health concerns. A sampling of key partners includes:

To support medical education and improve healthcare delivery, WSU partners with the Spokane Teaching Health Consortium, which includes Providence Health Care and Empire Health Foundation. In addition, the WSU College of Pharmacy teams with Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences to co-educate pharmacists and conduct cross-medical team training in Yakima, Washington.

Affiliated institutes, centers, and programs

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program

Promotes research on substance abuse within the state of Washington

Area Health Education Center

Works with university and community allies to promote health and wellness for underserved and at-risk populations through research, community development, and education

Biomedical Materials Research Laboratory

Develops materials and manufacturing processes for bone replacement and materials integration with the body

Center for International Health Services, Research and Policy

Conducts international comparative analyses regarding health system priority areas, emphasizing low- or middle-income countries

Center for Non-Thermal Processing of Food

Exploring new methods in nonthermal food processing (processing methods that do not use heat)

Center for Reproductive Biology

Provides opportunities for reproductive biologists across the Pacific Northwest to collaborate and learn from one another

Center for the Study of Animal Well-Being

Aims to improve the well-being of animals, enhance the mutual benefits of human-animal interactions, and offer related educational programs

College of Medicine

Conducting biomedical research in neuroscience, molecular biology, biochemical genetics, and more

Francheschi Microscopy and Imaging Center

Providing 3 confocal microscopes for use in life sciences and engineering research. The Center also teaches advanced classes in microscopy.

Genomics Core Laboratory at WSU Health Sciences Spokane

Providing sequencing-related services to faculty and scientists from around the community in collaboration with Illumina, Inc.

Integrated Programs in Biomedical Sciences

Devoted to research and training in the biomedical sciences including immunology and infectious disease, molecular biosciences, and neuroscience.

Institute of Biological Chemistry

Pursues fundamental research in the molecular biology and biochemistry of plants

Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion

Develops and evaluates health communication campaign strategies that make flexible use of a full range of media platforms to affect social development and quality of life

Nuclear Radiation Center

The only research reactor in the state of Washington

Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health

Experts in infectious disease research whose extensive global health outreach safeguards animal health (with an emphasis on livestock), protects food supplies, creates more economically secure families and communities, and advances public health across continents

Program of Excellence in Addictions Research

Advances innovative approaches to the understanding, treatment, and prevention of addictions

Sleep and Performance Research Center

Studies sleep and wakefulness in normal people to answer critical questions about the effects of reduced and displaced sleep on mental performance and health

Smart Environments Research Center

Making the environments in which we live and work safer, healthier and more productive through advanced data analytics and adaptive systems

Speech and Language Lab

Explores the use of modern technology to assist people with speech, hearing, and language disorders

Sports Science Laboratory

Investigates and models the effects of sports-related injuries on the body, particularly for head trauma

Translational Addiction Research Center

Explores the problem of drug addiction

Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL)

A full-service diagnostic reference facility that safeguards the health of livestock, pets, poultry, and fish in the Pacific Northwest and protects the public from zoonotic diseases, or animal diseases that can infect humans

Washington Center for Muscle Biology

Seeks new treatments for muscle disease, helps translate research discoveries into life-changing remedies, and prepares future scientists to continue the quest

Further information

Find out more about the University’s research pertaining to health challenges.

Sustaining Health (pdf)