Grants Fund City Scientists Research At WSU Branch A Boost For Spokane’s Economy, Prestige
University researchers in Spokane may play a role in finding a promising new treatment for cancer.
They also are studying male infertility, mental illness and the speech patterns of children born to cocaine-addicted mothers.
Scientific research is arriving in Spokane through Washington State University’s branch campus downtown. This week, officials at the school announced receiving $2.8 million in federal money for five research projects.
The announcement comes to a city that’s never had much of a role in university research, and shows how college scientists are expanding the city’s intellectual horizons.
The amount is small compared with the $89 million that WSU got for research last year, but it is significant to a city hungry for economic diversity through science and technology.
“For a little place with a few scientists, we are doing a heck of a lot,” said Bill Gray, dean of WSU Spokane, which is headquartered in the Farm Credit Bank building downtown.
“We are bringing new bucks into the community,” he said.
The federal money will go for researchers, supplies, equipment and fees to professionals in the community who participate in the projects.
The largest is $1.3 million over three years to study an experimental cancer treatment that could save the lives of critically ill patients.
The money is going to the Health Research and Education Center at the branch campus.
The director, Dr. C. Harold Mielke Jr., is working with scientists at the University of Washington, UCLA, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and two private companies in a cooperative project totaling $17 million.
“This could make us a pioneer in a new form of cancer treatment,” Mielke said.
The procedure has been tried successfully on animals at WSU’s veterinary school.
Researchers believe patients can be given large doses of a boron-containing drug, which concentrates in tumors.
Then, the tumor is targeted with a blast of neutrons from a nuclear reactor, which sets off a reaction in the boron molecules that kills the tumor, but not the healthy tissue around it.
The research reactor at WSU emits the kind of neutrons that scientists think will work in the treatment.
If successful, cancer patients could be cured without surgery or the use of debilitating chemotherapy, Mielke said.
In another research project, assistant professor Joanna Ellington is studying ways to help infertile men have children, and improving techniques for fertilization through laboratory culturing.
Ellington said she already has learned that cells inside a woman’s fallopian tubes create an environment so hospitable to male sperm that the sperm can live in the tubes for as long as 21 days waiting for the female egg to descend from the ovary.
She is now experimenting with fallopian tube cells in laboratory dishes, and hopes to use those cells to enhance laboratory conception known as in-vitro fertilization.
Ellington received $500,000 from the National Institutes of Health for her research.
Two professors in the speech and hearing sciences department are studying children born of cocaine-addicted mothers to see if their speech development is the same as that of children born to drug-free mothers.
Professor Charles Madison said the research so far shows that the cocaine apparently slows speech development some, but doesn’t cause severe impairments.
He and assistant professor Jeanne M. Johnson have received a $145,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The other grants, from the National Institute of Mental Health, include $1.1 million to study better methods for managing schizophrenics and $112,000 to study depression afflicting the elderly in rural areas.
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