Spokane universities team up to fight developmental disability


by Jordan Longacre & KREM.com


Posted on January 14, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 14 at 8:26 PM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Dahl Natural, a new medical research and development company, just made the move from Corvallis, Oregon to Spokane.

The move was funded by $500,000 grant from the Health Sciences and Services Authority (HSSA) and with the help of Greater Spokane Inc. (GSI).

They collaborated with local universities to develop a new type of technology aimed at identifying environmental contaminants in food and water. More specifically, they will be working with the Washington State University Department of Pharmacology to improve the daily life of children who suffer from Phenylketonuria (PKU). 

"This is a new opportunity for me to actually move out, a little bit out of the academic setting and partner with a business and actually bring our sort of expertise of academic research to bear in a commercialization, in a business sort of relationship, so I'm looking forward to it a lot,” said Mike Gibson, Professor Head of WSU College of Pharmacy. 

Dahl Natural will also be looking to a biochemist from Eastern Washington University, Travis Denton.

“It's tapping into the resources we have locally so I'm very excited about it because it's such a multidisciplinary team. We can bring the chemistry from Eastern, we can bring the pharmacology from WSU, bring the electrical engineering from Dahl Natural, it's a fantastic partnership," said Denton.
Experts said there has been a 65% increase in developmental disabilities in the last five years. They believe that environmental contaminants in food and water are directly correlated to the rise.

“We feel through this technology really will improve health, knowing what contaminants are in food and water, exactly at what level and how prevalent they are. Once you know you can address that, but if you don't, you keep your blinders on, you won't be able to address it,” said Anne Schwartz, President of Dahl Natural.  "We have the expertise we have the talent from three of the universities and we're working with WSU and Eastern Washington University. It's a beautiful place so we can attract employees and it’s great because most of the talent we would need to attract is already here."

The partnership between the universities and Dahl Natural also has those in the academic community excited.

"The possibilities and the synergies between business enterprises gives us a mechanism in academia to actually move our bench based research out into the market much more quickly, that's good for everyone, that's good for the city of Spokane, it’s good for the state of Washington, it’s good for research in general in the country and around the world, it’s a great opportunity" said Gibson.

Dahl Natural is working to obtain grants for their research and is certain it will be able to successfully develop this new technology.  They are developing a device that is cost effective, small and able to be used at home. It will eliminate the need for regular lab tests for patients who suffer from genetic and neurological disorders, like PKU.

“One of the real markets that's lacking for a lot of genetic disorders is the ability to monitor metabolites in blood in the home. An in home monitor, especially for a disease like PKU or other diseases can enable patients to get a turnaround of their results in minutes, in the home,” said Gibson.

The team also said this device has the potential to be used globally, serving populations around the world in safe monitoring of environmental contaminants in food and water.

"The world has a problem with environmental contaminants, and the more we know globally and the more we can understand how our pollution ends up across the world and how pollution across the world ends up here the better that we can handle it. We can work as a global community to improve our earth," said Schwartz.

Aside from just the medical advancement, the economic impact is huge for Spokane.

"Bringing a company like Dahl Natural expands those horizons, so it not only will bring a fundamental way of monitoring these diseases, to the public but it also creates jobs. The biotech industry provides a lot more jobs for people coming out with chemistry [degrees] so if they want to stay in their hometown of Spokane, they might not have to leave", says Denton.

The medical advancement being developed by Dahl Natural is the first of its kind in the world, and it is all happening right here in Spokane.