When Research Assistant Professor Janne Grønli (pronounced YAWN-uh GROON-lee) came to WSU Spokane two years ago as a visiting faculty member from Norway, her goal was to gain a deeper understanding of the brain and its role in sleep.
On Friday, she’ll finish her time here having accomplished that. Along the way, she participated in sleep research, co-authored papers with her WSU colleagues and had a wonderful time traveling.
The well-regarded Norwegian sleep scientist – an associate professor at her home institution, the University of Bergen — came to the U.S. to study with Associate Professor Jonathan Wisor. She participated in Wisor’s NIH-funded research, studying how chronic methamphetamine use affects the brain’s chemistry and metabolism, and the relationship of these changes to sleep disturbances. Together they have written published articles. Grønli presented their research at a recent major sleep conference in Denver and twice her Norwegian graduate students have come to Spokane to learn from WSU sleep scientists.
During her time here, Grønli became a member of WSU’s Sleep and Performance Research Center, whose portfolio ranges from sleep at the basic molecular level to applied studies in the field. She appreciates the center’s great diversity among its scientists at the Spokane and Pullman campuses and their teamwork.
Grønli has also appreciated the chance to see much of the western United States. She took a two-week road trip to California this year in addition to forays to Idaho, Montana and other parts of the West. She skied Mount Spokane and recently hiked on Mount Rainier.
But now she looks forward to going home. Her first stop after leaving Spokane will be Bologna, Italy to present data at the European Sleep Research Conference. Then it’s back to Bergen, where she’ll prepare to host a contingent of her WSU colleagues – along with researchers from Australia and Europe — at a September 19-21 workshop.
It’s been a delight to get to know Dr. Grønli and we wish her well as she goes back to work in Bergen. She vows to continue her research collaboration with her WSU colleagues. We asked Dr. Wisor for his thoughts about Dr. Grønli .
Q: How did she fit into your research while she was here? What was her area of specialization?
JW: Dr. Grønli was hired to serve as the manager of our NIH-funded research project examining effects of methamphetamine on sleep and brain chemistry. She managed the project very effectively, so effectively that she was able to take on additional projects while here.
Q: What are her research strengths? What did she add to what you’ve been doing?
JW: She was hired based on her strengths in both the processing and interpretation of sleep-related brain electrophysiological signals and in studying brain chemistry. Dr. Grønli is unique among sleep scientists I have known, in that she is very strong in both of these critical areas of sleep research. Because she runs clinical sleep studies in Bergen, she is naturally inclined to ask about the relevance of our basic sleep research here to clinical treatment of sleep disorders. Since she has been here, I find myself and other members of the lab talking about sleep disorders in the general population more than ever, and thinking very hard about how we are going to positively impact the lives of people with those disorders.
Q: How did she fit in with the research community here?
JW: My sense is that she fit in wonderfully. I will often hear her talking with other researchers about their work, or see her heading out to lunch with them. I think it is a testament to her work ethic that never once did I feel that her interactions with the rest of the research community distracted her or detracted from productivity. She was simply devoted to the research enterprise here on many levels.
Q: She says that you also participated in research she has going on in Norway. What’s that about?
JW: Yes, this is very exciting. One of the hurdles that we face as sleep researchers is the ability to effectively collect and process large, long-term polysomnographic data sets. (Polysomnographic data sets are measures of body temperature and brain and muscle activity that tell us how much sleep someone is getting and the quality of that sleep.) Because the data sets are large and the apparatus that is used to collect the data is complex and delicate, it is rare that studies last more than a few days.
But it is also very important to look at the long term. While the occasional night of sleep deprivation is OK for our health, it is clear that more long-term sleep problems due to insomnia, shift work, or just skimping on sleep (for instance getting by on six hours of sleep instead of eight) are a major contributor to auto accidents and to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and related metabolic disorders. So we need to be doing more long-term polysomnographic studies to understand this relationship between sleep and health. Dr. Grønli’s group in Norway has overcome the technological challenges and can now collect polysomnographic data continuously for weeks. This is amazing. But having collected these massive data sets, they found that they were somewhat overwhelmed with the resulting data processing steps. So Dr. Grønli, Dr. Michael Rempe (an affiliate research professor with the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and a computational biologist) and I have developed here in recent years a set of computational tools to process these massive data sets efficiently. So the group in Norway brings the technology, we bring the computational chops, and now we have a powerful system to study the sleep/health relationship in the long-term. We have a manuscript in review that reports deleterious effects of multi-day shift work on sleep quality in subsequent days off. We have another manuscript in preparation that reports effects of early life stress on sleep in adulthood. This is a great research partnership.
Q: Do you anticipate continuing to work with her once she returns to Norway? What do you gain from long-distance research partnerships like that?
JW: We will absolutely continue this partnership. We have manuscripts and research grant applications pending (here and in Norway). Dr. Rempe and I are assisting on the dissertation projects of Dr. Grønli’s graduate students in Bergen. More generally, as a country with different geography, a different economy, a different climate, Norway brings a different perspective on research priorities in the area of sleep and health. This difference broadens and enriches my understanding of the value of research.
As if all that is not reason enough to continue our collaborations, I am a cross country ski racer, and our collaborations might one day give me an excuse to fulfill my dream…to travel to Norway to participate in the original, and most prestigious, cross country ski race in the world, the Birkebeinerrennet!