New grant aims to combat alcoholism

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A grant of $29 million for alcoholism treatment research may pave the way for new discoveries in the field at UT. 

The National Institutes of Health awarded a total of $29 million to the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism-Neuroimmune, an international consortium researching better methods to combat alcoholism, with $8.5 million going to UT. 

UT’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research will host the administrative headquarters for NIH. Waggoner Center director Robert Adron Harris said he and his team are interested in understanding the neurobiology of addiction and alcoholism. Harris said he was notified by the NIH in early February of the award. 

“What changes in the brain?” Harris said. “How is it remodeled by excessive alcohol use … and how can these changes be corrected?” 

In 2014, Harris and team members from the consortium found those who developed alcohol dependence had thousands of genes turned on, compared to those who were not dependent on alcohol. 

The research was the first time scientists used new technology targeted toward biological data to link different genes with alcoholism.

“We hope our model can serve as a type of Wikipedia of alcohol dependence, helping to break down the complexities of alcohol dependence and becoming a reference for future research into drug therapies,” said Sean Farris, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center, in an article published in 2014.

Harris said he hopes the various research centers in the consortium can help further the progress made so far.

“As our basic science work becomes advanced, it needs to be translated into clinical work,” Harris said. “The Dell Medical School would be an excellent place for this translation to take place.”

Carlton Erickson, director of the UT Addiction Science Research and Education Center, recently wrote about alcoholism research for UT News. Erickson said new research is always helpful in
alcoholism research. 

“Breakthroughs in genetics, neurobiology and neuropharmacology have led scientists to know that some people who drink harmfully may develop a full-blown disease, leaving them unable to stop drinking without help,” Erickson said in his essay. 

Educating others on alcoholism is key, Erickson said, and while there is already research on the topic, he said he believes more funding for research can greatly help the cause.