Three College of Medicine Faculty Awarded WSU Seed Funding

WSU College of Medicine Seed Grant award winners

WSU College of Medicine researchers won three of nine 2024 New Faculty Seed Grants. The WSU Office of Research grant program supports research and scholarly or creative programs that lead to sustained professional development and external funding for junior faculty.

“Receiving these highly competitive awards is an important accomplishment for these researchers and speaks to our outstanding early-stage faculty in the College of Medicine,” said Interim Vice Dean for Research Sterling McPherson, PhD. “We are thankful to the review panel and for the university’s recognition of these promising scholars. Their work aligns with one of our core aims, conducting research that helps people throughout Washington and the world live healthier, more productive lives.”

Exploring the Effects of Weight Loss Drugs on Cardiovascular Health

Catherine Jarrett, PhD, RDN, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, will assess how new GLP-1 agonist drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy affect the vascular health and cardiorespiratory fitness of Spokane adults taking them for medically supervised weight loss.

Initial research has shown that these medications, originally developed to treat diabetes and now popular for weight loss, may also reduce blood pressure and major cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. This study will help establish the mechanism for this improved heart health.  

Although these medications may improve heart health, they may not improve patients’ cardiorespiratory fitness, which is the ability to supply muscles with oxygen during physical activity. This would suggest that a holistic approach to weight loss that incorporates exercise and diet is important for overall health. 

“It’s important to look at people from the community who are initiating this drug and better understand their health in a real-world setting,” Dr. Jarret said. “You may be reaching more of your weight goals, but is your health better?”

Dr. Jarrett will collaborate with WSU College of Nursing Teaching Assistant Professor Megan Vulcan, ARNP, and two Nutrition and Exercise Physiology undergraduate students to work with participants at a weight management clinic in Spokane. With data from this pilot study, they plan to apply for external funding to follow patients longitudinally and help establish the long-term effects of GLP-1 agonists on health and fitness.

Integrating Indigenous Methodologies with Quantitative Health Science Research

Jessica Williams-Nguyen, PhD, MPG, research assistant professor at the Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), will map quantitative research methodologies that align with diverse Indigenous ways of knowing and being and assess stakeholders’ willingness to adopt them. This will enable Indigenous communities to participate more fully in health science research and increase community ownership over research results.

“If the communities about whom we are doing research can’t participate in important parts of that research because there’s a fundamental conflict between the way that they understand the world and the way that we’re trying to understand the world, then the research is being done to them when it should be a collective process,” said Dr. Williams-Nguyen.

Many gold-standard quantitative methods in the health sciences rest uneasily beside community-based methods often used with Indigenous communities because they don’t allow for community input into how data are analyzed, interpreted, or presented, Dr. Williams-Nguyen said. For instance, many studies use deficient framing, comparing rates of health issues in an Indigenous population to white populations, which portrays communities in a negative light without generating solutions or attracting resources needed to implement them.

In response, scholars in niche fields have begun promoting quantitative methods rooted in Indigenous ways that align with evidence-based medicine standards. Network analysis, for example, is consistent with the Indigenous understanding of knowledge as relational.

Dr. Williams-Nguyen will explore this emerging literature and collect tools for health researchers in collaboration with Cole Allick, PhD, MHA, an IREACH research assistant professor and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. They also plan to survey academic and community stakeholders to assess their willingness to adopt these tools in real-world studies.

Testing Common Constraints on Working Memory and Inferential Decision-Making  

When a health care provider is confronted with new patient and a new set of symptoms, they must decide the best course of action based on their past experiences and knowledge, a process called an inference-based decision-making. Courtney Kurinec, PhD, assistant professor at the Sleep and Performance Research Center, will investigate whether the common constraints of cognitive load from multitasking and time pressure from deadlines cause errors in that process, errors which can result in poor decision-making in everyday life as well as high-stakes professions.

“If you’re a physician examining a patient but don’t recall information because of time pressure or cognitive load, you may not apply that information to make appropriate care decisions. That could have serious consequences for the patient,” Dr. Kurinec said.  

Dr. Kurinec plans to test the impact of these constraints on inferential decision-making and working memory, which is necessary for forming inferential associations.

In her study, experiment participants will be shown a series of object pairs to form direct and indirect associations, stored in their working memory, before making a decision based on indirect associations. The first experiment will test the effect of increased cognitive load on this process by having participants complete an unrelated memorization task before making the decision. The second experiment will test the effect of time pressure by giving participants a short decision deadline.

Results will shed light on whether multitasking and tight deadlines, all too common in the doctor’s office, produce errors in inference-based decision-making. They could also reveal whether working memory is important for these decisions.

“We want to identify where these errors are coming from and make it easier for people to make these decisions,” Dr. Kurinec said.