Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research benefits from $38 million federal grant

AUSTIN, Texas—The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has awarded a $38 million grant to the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism (INIA), $6.25 million of which will fund projects at the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at The University of Texas at Austin.

INIA, which links labs and scientists from six research sites across the nation, is devoted to identifying the molecular basis of alcoholism and to contributing to the development of effective treatments for the disease.

The $6.25 million going to University of Texas at Austin investigators will fund five projects that use animal models to investigate the predisposition to drink alcohol and the effect that drinking has on the brain.

“In humans, we see that some people drink very little, some people drink moderately and some people drink excessively,” says Adron Harris, director of the Waggoner Center and professor of molecular biology at The University of Texas at Austin. “In lab animals we see the same thing. We have some mice who won’t touch it. We have some who will drink in moderation and we have some who, given the choice between water and alcohol, will always choose the alcohol mixture.”

Harris says the overall goal of the center and the INIA consortium is to understand the genetic and environmental factors that promote alcoholism in order to develop treatments that will help people to control and break their addictions.

The principal investigators at The University of Texas at Austin benefiting from the grant are, in addition to Harris, Susan Bergeson, Yuri Blednov, Vishwanath Iyer, R. Dayne Mayfield and Richard Morrisett.

Harris, who’s been studying the neurobiology of addiction and alcoholism for more than three decades, was brought to The University of Texas at Austin in 1998 to found and direct the Waggoner Center, one of the few institutions in the country devoted exclusively to alcohol and addiction research. In 2001, he was asked to be the co-scientific director of INIA by George F. Koob, principal investigator of the consortium and a professor at The Scripps Research Institute.

The INIA, one of the largest addiction research initiatives in the country, maintains the independence of individual research teams and develops shared resources that would be beyond the reach of any single lab. While lead investigators’ projects are funded individually, the consortium provides administrative oversight (including the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism Web site) and three shared research areas focusing on animal models, neurocircuitry and gene arrays. These common assets aid the exchange of technologies, ideas and expertise.

To date, the consortium has made significant scientific progress, including identifying specific genes and brain regions critical to excessive drinking.

During the next five years, the researchers plan to use molecular, cellular and physiological methods to identify specific clusters of genes whose expression is regulated by alcohol and to confirm nominated gene targets. The group also aims to attract new and innovative investigators to the field of alcohol research.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is one of the 18 institutes that compose the National Institutes of Health. It supports and conducts biomedical and behavioral research on the causes, consequences, treatment and prevention of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems.

For more information contact: Dr. Adron Harris, 512-232-2514.