Meet our researchers: Emily Qualls-Creekmore

on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Pullman. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

Dr. Emily Qualls-Creekmore hopes her research will lead to a better understanding of how stress affects physical and mental health. She joined the college in June of 2021 as an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience. Dr. Qualls-Creekmore completed her doctorate at Louisiana State University and a postdoctoral fellowship at Pennington Biomedical Research Center-LSU.

What are your current research interests and what attracted you to that area?

My research interests lie around the central concept of stress neurobiology. I am particularly interested in how different types of stressors and different intensities of stress can lead to different outcomes on behavior and physiology. There are two major lines of research currently underway in my lab. First, we study how stress shapes outcomes on motivated behavior and what brain circuits and neurotransmitters are driving those effects. This area of research is important to understand how stress can contribute to substance use disorders, feeding disorders, and depression. A second area of research in our lab studies how stress influences gastrointestinal function via the gut-brain axis. Stress is a major factor in disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia, yet we know little about how the central nervous system is involved in that relationship. Finally, I have a strong interest in developing better models to study sex differences in stress neurobiology. Historically, females have not been included in preclinical research and this has left a huge gap in our understanding of how females respond and adapt to stress. Therefore, we include females and males in all our research and are working to establish stress models that better reflect the female experience of stress in humans.

What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your research?

I hope to provide a better understanding of how stress affects physical and mental health with the ultimate goal of discovering new targets for alleviating the long-term negative consequences associated with stress.   

How can your research help people and animals?

Research on stress is important for both animals and humans because it helps us understand the physiological and psychological mechanisms that respond to stressors and how these responses can impact health and well-being. Stress is obviously ever-increasing for humans navigating a complex world. And we should not overlook the impact of stress on our pets, livestock, and other animals in captivity. Therefore, this area of research has implications for human and animal health, animal welfare, and even shaping public policy.

What do you enjoy about working with students?

Interacting with students allows me to contribute to the education and development of the next generation of STEM professionals. By sharing knowledge, skills, and insights, I can help shape their careers and inspire them to make positive contributions to their fields. I see mentoring as an opportunity to create an inclusive environment for students where together we can develop an educational strategy that sets them up for success in whatever they aim for in the future. Witnessing their growth, achievements, and success in their careers is a source of pride and satisfaction.

What motivates you outside of work?

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family, exploring the amazing outdoors of the PNW, gardening, and cooking.

Why did you choose to come to WSU?

Prior to joining WSU, I had long been aware of the stellar reputation of their neuroscience program. When I got the chance to interview for a faculty position, I jumped at the opportunity. It was clear upon my first visit to campus that WSU and the surrounding Pullman community would be a great place to continue my career and raise my family.