WSU Spokane names new research initiative, team, director

By Terren Roloff, WSU Spokane

Buchwald-webSPOKANE, Wash. – A distinguished physician researcher has been named director of a new program at Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane to improve community health in underserved populations and geographic regions.

Former University of Washington professor of epidemiology and medicine Dedra Buchwald will head the Initiative for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH). Her research team will be welcomed at a public reception Nov.4.

“Our interest in serving underserved communities goes back to our beginnings 125 years ago when WSU was named a land grant university,” said WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown. “Having researchers of such high caliber who study health in those communities is a big step forward for WSU Spokane.”

Focus on Native health

Buchwald’s National Institutes for Health-funded research over the last 30 years has focused on American Indian and Alaska Native health; studies about twins; and chronic fatigue/chronic pain.

She founded the Partnerships for Native Health, one of the largest research centers focused on Native health in the U.S., and she founded the country’s largest twin registry, a community-based registry of about 10,000 children and adults residing primarily in Washington state.

She leads one of the sites in the Multidisciplinary Approach to the Study of Chronic Pelvic Pain Research Network, which embraces a systemic and integrated approach to the study of chronic pelvic pain and related conditions.

Joining Buchwald in IREACH are associate director Michael McDonell, Kai’mi Sinclair and Lonnie Nelson, all faculty members in Partnerships for Native Health; Glen Duncan, chair of WSU Spokane’s nutrition and exercise physiology program; and Abigail Echo-Hawk, co-director of Partnerships for Native Health.

Research on addiction, intervention

McDonell’s primary research interests are on how interventions, such as behavioral therapy, can be used to treat alcoholism in populations that suffer from high rates of alcohol addiction. He is nationally known for his work on using new alcohol biomarkers to improve the assessment and treatment of alcoholism.

He recently received funding for other projects to evaluate a new state program to prevent severe mental illness in young people and to develop a smartphone app to treat alcoholism.

Sinclair’s research focuses on community-based interventions to prevent diabetes and promote health in Native populations. She is the principal investigator on three large federal grants focused on either adapting evidence-based diabetes prevention strategies for Native communities or testing the impact of culturally based interventions on health.

Nelson’s research focuses on using patient-centered and harm-reduction behavioral strategies to improve health in Native communities. His particular interest is focused on cultural adaptation of interventions to address lifestyle issues such as smoking, weight loss and substance abuse. He leads several federally funded studies focused on smoking cessation and stroke prevention in American Indian populations.

Research complements community medicine

Duncan was a faculty member in epidemiology and graduate program coordinator for the interdisciplinary graduate program in nutritional sciences at the UW before joining WSU.

Echo-Hawk works with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes to engage them in health disparities research and with health researchers to ensure research is done in a manner that respects tribal sovereignty and is culturally appropriate. She has been an integral part of establishing health research projects and public health initiatives with rural and urban tribal communities across the United States.

IREACH will work in partnership with WSU Spokane’s Program of Excellence in Addictions Research (PEAR), a long-standing multidisciplinary group of researchers that has made significant contributions to the field of alcohol and drug addiction. It was established by Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs and Research John Roll and is directed by Sterling McPherson.

The addition of IREACH complements other work as well, said Roll.

“This group of scholars strengthens our already strong commitment to conducting cutting-edge research to improve the lives of all patients, their families and their communities,” he said. “This fits well with research being conducted in multiple WSU colleges and will complement the community-based approach to medicine that is embodied in the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.”


Dedra Buchwald, IREACH at WSU Health Sciences Spokane, 206-708-8668,
Terren Roloff, WSU Health Sciences Spokane communications, 509-358-7527,