AUSTIN, Texas — The National Institutes of Health has awarded an international consortium seeking better pharmaceutical treatments for alcoholism a five-year grant totaling $29 million. The administrative headquarters and several of the projects will be at The University of Texas at Austin, which will receive $8.5 million of the total.
The Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism-Neuroimmune consortium will use brain gene studies, brain imaging and human laboratory studies to identify and test potential new treatments for alcoholism.
“This is an exciting time for addiction research at UT Austin,” said consortium director Adron Harris, a neuroscience professor at UT Austin who also directs the Waggoner Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research. “Large, innovative research projects like INIA will build bridges to the new Dell Medical School and will hopefully result in better treatment for the many Americans suffering from diseases such as alcoholism.”
As part of their work with the consortium, Harris and his team mapped the differences in gene expression between an alcoholic’s brain and a nonalcoholic’s brain. In 2014, they found that, as a person becomes dependent on alcohol, thousands of genes in their brains are turned up or down, like a dimmer switch on a lightbulb, compared with the same genes in a healthy person's brain.
The scientists are now using an innovative technique to find drugs that can, in a sense, turn those switches back to their original settings and, they hope, revert an alcoholic's brain into a nonalcoholic brain. The work might one day help the millions of people who suffer with the emotional, financial and health consequences of alcoholism.
Other consortium scientists at UT Austin are Dayne Mayfield, Igor Ponomarev, Sean Farris, Regina Mangieri and Richard Morrisett. The consortium also includes scientists from Oregon Health and Science University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois at Chicago, The Scripps Research Institute, McGill University, Stanford University and Indiana University School of Medicine.
The consortium began in 2001 and was administered by The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. With this renewal, the administrative core moves to The University of Texas at Austin on Feb. 1.