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Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine


Research Highlights

Mark VanDam
Assistant Professor, Speech and Hearing Sciences

We’ve long known that moms talk to kids with the same enthusiastic, high-pitched tone described as “motherese.” What’s lesser known is how fathers speak to their children and the impact this has on childhood speech development.

To find the answer, Mark VanDam, assistant professor in the Department of Speech & Hearing Sciences, has been collecting thousands of recordings of children interacting with their parents at home to capture the natural way parents speak to their children. The recordings are processed to analyze intonation and other speech production parameters to determine common patterns.

The conclusion: dads speak differently to their children than moms. With speech and intonation that reflects closer to adult conversation, dads facilitate the practice of speaking in a more formal, adult manner, while moms facilitate the practice of speaking at home in a more familiar manner.

This important finding of a distinct “fatherese” opens the door to a wide range of additional study, including how children’s language abilities and their educational and social outcomes are impacted by interactions with fathers, how therapeutic strategies should be altered to adjust for differences between interactions with moms and dads, and how automatic speech recognition and speech processing technology may be effectively written. The researchers are also looking at speech patterns in families with a child with hearing loss and how that hearing loss affects family speech dynamics.

The research, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, Gonzaga University, and UCLA, has received $1 million in funding to continue research, including to process and archive all recordings.

Sterling McPherson
Associate Professor and Director for Biostatistics and Clinical Trial Design, Medical Education and Clinical Sciences

As substance abuse and addiction continue to make headlines across the country, a team led by Sterling McPherson, associate professor and director for biostatistics and clinical trial design in the Department of Medical Education & Clinical Sciences, is working to develop experimental technologies and explore innovative new treatments for addiction thanks to two National Institutes of Health grants received this year.

The first grant, in collaboration with Ringful Health, LLC, backed the creation of a decision support tool for nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit working with opioid addicted babies. The tool was developed to help nurses chart a course for treating symptoms, and tracks the charting to ensure all nursing team members can follow the treatment course effectively.

The second grant, also in partnership with Ringful Health, LLC, and the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic, enabled the development of a tablet-based app to create efficient work flow between primary care providers (PCPs), referrals to substance use disorder specialists, and patients. The technology, which addresses the persistent health care challenge of referrals falling through the cracks, enables links between PCPs, electronic medical records, referred physicians and patients to create a communication loop that ensures follow through from all parties.

Pablo MonsivaisPablo Monsivais
Associate Professor, Nutrition and Exercise Physiology

A nutritious diet is the foundation for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing chronic disease. To promote healthy eating, public health policy and built environment planning are keys to ensuring that people have access to affordable, nutritious foods.

As part of a two-year project with Cambridge University, Pablo Monsivais, a new associate professor in the Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology, launched the Food environment assessment tool (Feat). The web-based tool maps and measures the food environment for all of England at several geographic scales, and can track changes over time to offer valuable information to policy makers who want to create healthier food environments.

With Feat now in operation in England, Monsivais plans to work with his WSU colleagues to see whether similar tools could be useful for Washington. The tool could go further to include multiple aspects of the environment that influence diet, physical activity and health care access. With funding from the Health Equity Research Collaborative, Monsivais is starting with eastern Washington, with plans to eventually expand across the state. His project will attempt to drill down to study the neighborhood environments of our residents at an extremely granular level to create better understanding of the social determinants of health in the state and help guide local and statewide policy to create neighborhoods that enable healthy living and reduce inequalities.

Weihang Chai
Associate Professor, Biomedical Sciences

In the world of disease and cancer research, every new finding means a greater chance to improve treatment and ultimately untangle the web of science that could lead to finding a cure.

For Weihang Chai, associate professor for the Department of Biomedical Sciences, this year yielded two major findings. The first was for Coats plus syndrome, a rare genetic disease that impacts the eyes and causes abnormalities of the brain, bones, gastrointestinal system, and other parts of the body. Previous studies have indicated the genetic cause as the CTC1-STN1-TEN1 protein complex. Chai and her team used a novel technique to discover that the protein had a broader role in the genome than previously believed, which could give clinicians more accurate guidance for management and treatment of the disease. This work was published in Cell Reports.

The second finding focused on colorectal cancer, and specifically the MLH1 gene, the alteration of which frequently leads to colon cancer. The gene is well known for its essential role in fixing mistakes that are made when DNA is copied for cell division. Chai and her team found a novel function of this gene. They discovered that when cancer cells were deficient in the MLH1 gene, the deficiency disrupted genome organization and resulted in gene rearrangement and abnormalities. Further research is needed to understand exactly how it happens, but could result in improved diagnosis methods for individuals with this suppressed gene to catch cancer at an earlier stage. This work was published in Nucleic Acids Research.

Georgina Lynch
Assistant Professor, Speech and Hearing Sciences

Dr. Georgina Lynch’s research interests include Neuropathology of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), biomarkers and diagnostic practices of ASD and more.

She recently sat down to discuss her autism research: