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Developing Prevention & Treatment Solutions for Alcohol & Substance Use Disorders

Investigators from Dell Medical School and the Colleges of Natural Sciences, Liberal Arts and Pharmacy explore alcohol and drug actions at the molecular, electrophysiological and behavioral levels. Interdisciplinary collaborations allow the development of new tools and research approaches not possible in any one laboratory.

Areas of Focus

New gene sequencing technology (NexGen RNA-Seq), along with oligonucleotide microarrays (gene chips), allow us to measure changes in the activity or expression of thousands of genes. Members use this rapidly evolving technology to determine gene expression changes in human alcoholics and in animal models of addiction. This information can identify new drug targets and be used to repurpose medications for treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

To prevent or reverse the process of addiction, investigators research the molecular targets responsible for drug actions on brain cells. Center researchers examine potential targets in test tube assays as well as in experimental animals with genetic changes in key molecules. This data will be useful in designing novel therapeutic approaches to addiction.

The FDA has approved the drugs disulfiram, naltrexone and acamprosate in the treatment of alcohol dependence, but none of these medications has shown strong, consistent effects in clinical trials. Given the need for more effective treatments, the center uses emerging research in addiction neurobiology to identify new candidates for drug development.

Progress in alcohol and addiction research requires better education and focused training of future scientists. Members are committed to this endeavor, developing new courses in addiction biology for undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally, the university has designated endowment funds to train graduate students in this research field. In the long run, this may have the greatest impact of all of the Waggoner Center’s programs.