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Riverpoint on a Roll 

By BRIAN L. PITCHER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & steady drumbeat of progress sounds on the Riverpoint Campus, the heart of the University District, and it is not only the sounds of construction. Star scholars, growing companies, millions of dollars in federal funding, new graduate and professional programs -- these and other accomplishments add to the momentum. If someone can write in The Inlander that we are the same place we were in 1989 ("Spokane's To-Do List," 11/1/07), we need your help to get the word out.





Innovation center: The Riverpoint Campus anchors a first-rate innovation system. Bricks and mortar are critical, along with other infrastructure. Leading scientists can go anywhere they choose, so we cannot slow the pace -- we need additional biomedical facilities for research growth. Key partners, including Sirti and the WSU Research Foundation, move discoveries to the marketplace.





WSU and Spokane have been remarkably successful the past four years in recruiting top faculty. Success factors include affiliation with a world-class research university, excellent lab facilities, access to cyber infrastructure, clinical research partnerships with leading providers and quality of life.





Chromosome biology: WSU and Sacred Heart Medical Center recruited Lisa Shaffer and Bassem Bejjani, top genetics researchers and clinicians. Today their company, Signature Genomics, employs nearly 60 people in the Sirti Technology Center and continues to grow. They and their colleagues in WSU's internationally recognized Center for Reproductive Biology are transforming our understanding of chromosomes and their implications in genetics, cellular activity and development.





Partnership opportunities with WSU centers and faculty underpin the new private research institute -- the Institute for Systems Medicine -- and are key to legislative support and competitive funding. The ISM will receive federal funding for research in epigenomics, conducted by and extending discoveries of WSU's Michael Skinner.





Brain, behavior and performance: WSU recruited Greg Belenky, who pioneered the development of technology and techniques for studies of sleeping, waking and human performance, then Hans Van Dongen joined him in the Sleep and Performance Research Lab. With Pullman colleagues, they competed successfully for a prestigious Keck Foundation Medical Program award. With more than $8 million in research funding, they have produced a 100 percent return on investment after three years -- remarkable for any start-up -- and several commercial applications are on the horizon from their discoveries.





Applied physical science: A remarkable scientist, WSU's "Yogi" Gupta, founded the Applied Sciences Lab here. Six top ASL scientists work on applications from optical sensors to alternative energy, partnering with local companies to improve their competitive position in the global marketplace.





Health professions education and doctoral programs: With strong faculty and infrastructure in place, WSU partnered with EWU and UW to establish first-year medical and dental education at Riverpoint. We will introduce a new director for that program to the community early next year, along with five more faculty recruits who will bring significant research agendas. The state approved and funded a PhD degree program in the WSU College of Nursing that immediately enrolled nine students. Expanded pharmacy and nursing enrollments address critical workforce shortages. Our nursing college is the largest in the Pacific Northwest, each year graduating more entry-level nurses than any other institution in the region, and our pharmacy college continues to expand.





A new vision for smart health care: Albert Einstein famously noted that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. The vision of the Riverpoint Campus is to do it differently, translating biomedical discoveries into applications that improve health, strengthen regional providers and stimulate economic growth.





We emphasize interprofessional experience with medical, pharmacy and nursing students in learning teams, and WSU health science and EWU allied health programs partner effectively. Our collaborations help change the way we think about and deliver health care.


Several WSU proposals for the Life Sciences Discovery Fund involve Spokane faculty; if funded, these will significantly enhance life sciences and biomedical research and economic prosperity.





The American Academy for the Advancement of Science, one of the top international scientific associations, recently reviewed the regional life science research portfolio. The AAAS reported that WSU-led research at the forefront of science and health, in partnership with regional assets as a competitive medical center, create significant potential to transform both the economy, and the 21st century approach to health care. We are leading the development of a truly integrated continuum from research to clinical services, right here in Spokane.





Continued growth: Our success can be measured in many ways. Look at our ranking among the state's higher education institutions in research funding; with $7-$8 million each year in federal research expenditures, WSU Spokane comes in third in the state, behind only WSU Pullman and the University of Washington.





What is significant about these research expenditures is the scholarship and projects they support -- all of which will improve human and economic health in the Inland Northwest and beyond.





An exciting future: Spokane's investment in the Riverpoint Campus anchors other developments, such as the condos opening at "The Edge" and nearby major buildings and proposals. Spokane's continued attention to the promise -- and the reality -- of the University District is essential for the private sector to leverage and benefit from growth at Riverpoint. WSU will do its part by continuing to develop a robust physical and IT infrastructure, recruit outstanding student and faculty scholars and compete successfully for millions in research funding.





And to think that five short years ago, Riverpoint had only two buildings. As the momentum builds, the drumbeats accelerate in the heart of the University District.





Brian L. Pitcher, PhD, serves as chancellor of Washington State University Spokane, and as vice-provost for health sciences for the entire WSU system.

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