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Washington State University
Washington State University Office of the Provost

Initiatives Strategic Reallocation

Grand Challenge Projects

WSU’s Grand Challenges officially launched in 2015, capitalizing on the institution’s fundamental research strengths to achieve broad societal impact. The six multidisciplinary projects funded and supported by the strategic reallocation investment from WSU will stimulate enhanced federal research funding support, increase impactful publications, increase commercialization activities, and boost faculty recruitment.

There are four major projects funded at nearly $5 million each over four years, and two smaller planning grants related to smart genomics and smart infrastructure. Abstracts of the projects below, and the teams are getting their plans into motion. The first update on progress of each project will be in early 2017.

Functional Genomics Initiative ($4,998,890 over five years)

Recent advances are revolutionizing our ability to edit genes.  This will influence society on an unprecedented scale over the next decade: curing genetic diseases, improving agricultural production, and revolutionizing the models available for biomedical and life sciences research. The versatile and efficient CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing system is the specific technology paving the way for this impact. Through WSU’s Functional Genomics Initiative, the university will leap to the forefront of genome editing, with a particular focus on livestock species.  The initiative’s goals are both to support all life scientists at WSU in using gene editing and to generate traits in livestock that will improve public health worldwide by controlling disease, reducing the use of antibiotics, and helping feed a projected global population of 9.5 billion by 2050. The initiative will develop critical core infrastructure for the application of this cutting edge gene-editing technology to support all life sciences research at WSU.  It will also enable the university to build a cohort of faculty to drive basic and applied research and to communicate and address social and ethical approaches regarding gene-enhanced food animals. These ambitions directly address two of WSU’s Grand Challenges: Sustaining Health: The Uncompromising Pursuit of Healthier People and Communities, and the Food-Energy-Water Nexus.

The College of Veterinary Medicine is leading the initiative, and the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) and the College of Arts and Sciences are collaborators.

Research Collaborative for Addressing Health Disparities: A Multilevel Approach to Health Risks and Resilience ($4,127,320 over five years)

Persistent and damaging health disparities due to poverty and discrimination represent a crucial problem at the intersection of two of WSU’s grand challenges: Advancing Opportunity and Equity and Sustaining Health. We are establishing a center of excellence that will conduct cutting-edge research on the determinants of health disparities across biological, behavioral, family and community levels, and create partnerships with communities and health systems in the design and evaluation of interventions in a culturally-sensitive and scalable manner.

Our team, which spans the College of Arts & Sciences, Human Development, and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine across multiple campuses, will dramatically increase WSU’s capacity to examine how the biological and social determinants of health disparities interact, and how they can be addressed at the individual and community level. An important element of our strategy will be to investigate resilience factors that allow some individuals and communities to achieve good health despite significant adversity. Our collaborative will target the intersecting issues of stress, nutrition, poverty, race, and health, which are identified as major priorities of the National Institutes of Health. Our goal is to create the interdisciplinary collaborations necessary to make WSU a national leader in advancing opportunity and sustaining health through the elimination of health disparities.

Maximizing the potential for green stormwater infrastructure to save energy and provide clean water for people and the fish they eat ($3,511,885 over five years)

Stormwater is runoff after a rain event and is particularly problematic because chemicals from the atmosphere, soil, roofs, fences, roadways, driveways, and parking lots are transported to surface and marine waters. The pollutants contained in stormwater have been found to be toxic to a range of aquatic organisms including salmon. Exposure to stormwater from urban roadways can kill adult Coho salmon in as little as two and a half hours and juvenile Chinook salmon may harbor up to 81 pharmaceuticals and personal care products in their tissues. WSU is uniquely positioned to be a global leader in “green” solutions for stormwater management and curb this enormous threat to the health of our waterways and the food sources that live in them. Over the next five years the WSU Stormwater team will generate basic and applied knowledge about stormwater including contaminant movement through microbial communities, public policy and behavioral economics, and geographic information sciences. This information will be used to implement new practices and provide the foundation for policies that will transform the current state of stormwater management and highlight WSU as a leader in the generation of novel solutions for minimizing the impact of human behavior on finite natural resources.

The initiative will be led by CAHNRS in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences and the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. It will address the Sustainable Resources Grand Challenge to supply food, energy and water for future generations.

Community Health Analytics Initiative ($4,990,790 over five years)

As a collaborative project among colleges of Engineering and Architecture, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, and Arts and Sciences, the Community Health Analytics Initiative (CHAI) addresses a capacity gap at WSU—i.e., health analytics.  CHAI is a strategic project in a state that is dominated by the computing and information technology industry and that is known for its medical science in Seattle and Spokane and its veterinary medicine in Pullman.  In an era of data-driven economy and society, the major goal of CHAI is to establish leadership in computational- and analytics-based healthcare and medical sciences at WSU. CHAI will also establish a new interdisciplinary PhD program in Health Analytics to be offered through the collaborating colleges.

CHAI research brings together domain-experts—health science researchers who generate or collect data—with computer scientists and statisticians to collaborate in analyzing and understanding the data, forming optimal design studies, visualizing and modeling the data, performing optimized computations on data, and in general advancing the state-of-the-art in community health informatics/analytics.  As the type of life-saving research that CHAI researchers will engage in, we plan to address the problem of Social Determinants of Antimicrobial Resistance in rural settings such as eastern Washington.

The Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture and the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science will lead the initiative in partnership with the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

Planning Grants

Nutritional Genomics and Smart Foods ($2,491,430 over five years)

The overall goal of this research is to leverage existing and build new infrastructure and intellectual capital to establish WSU as a world leader in nutritional genomics.   Our focus will be on identifying connections between modern agricultural innovations, food production, and health outcomes.   We will explore these connections in diverse populations, adopting a “soils-to-society” framework. More broadly, the activities will integrate nutritional genomics into the Sustaining Health research agenda being formulated by the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, and others.

To accomplish this, we will leverage the Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Program on the Spokane campus, which is currently transitioning into the ESFCOM as a full department. The physical infrastructure needed to support our work will utilize existing resources focused on human metabolism and genomics in Spokane and Pullman, along with access to clinical populations across the state. At the same time, we will address infrastructure needs that are either not currently available or are not of sufficient caliber to conduct cutting-edge research. Two of our largest needs include development of a state-of-the-art Nutrition Research Kitchen in Spokane to support human feeding trials designed to test the effects of newly developed “smart foods” consumption on human health, and development of a Nutritional Phenotyping Service Center in Pullman to analyze foods and clinical samples for essential nutrients, as well as other biologically active compounds and biomarkers of nutritional status and health.

A Holistic Approach to Developing Smarter Cities ($1,500,000 over five years)

Communities and, as an extension, cities are perhaps our oldest and most defining invention. As our species has evolved our communities have become increasingly urbanized with more than half of mankind now living in cities which increasingly rely on technology to maintain them. Smart systems are integral to maintaining and improving the quality of life within our cities while providing resiliency during natural or man-made disasters.

The proposed effort develops a framework to monitor, predict and control energy and air quality in an urban environment. This requires a strategy to monitor the air quality at various locations, as well as the energy, gas, water, and traffic systems. The five-year plan for this effort aims at three overarching goals by working in interdisciplinary teams at WSU and in collaboration with Spokane city and our industry partners:

  1. Enable the real-time, location-specific prediction and control of energy and air quality in the community as well as within homes and buildings.
  2. Develop a conceptual design for a unified smart city control system.
  3. Create methods for enhancing interdisciplinary efforts in the development of smart cities for transferability of technology, communications, and privacy protocols.