WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Jan. 3,
2018 – The
National Institutes of Health has awarded Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center a
grant worth an estimated $8 million over five years for the establishment of a
new center for research into alcohol addiction.
the opioid crisis has captured headlines recently, alcohol abuse continues to
be a major problem in this country. Over the past 15 years, an estimated 90,000
people a year have died from alcohol-related problems as compared to the
roughly 59,000 people who died from opioid overdoses in 2016.
Forest Translational Alcohol Research Center (WF-TARC) will employ preclinical
animal models and clinical research to study behavioral and neurobiological factors
associated with vulnerability and resilience to alcohol use disorder (AUD). The
new center builds on a highly productive translational alcohol research program
at Wake Forest Baptist that was established with prior support from the
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
will be the only center in the country to focus specifically on understanding
why some people are more vulnerable to becoming addicted to alcohol than
others,” said Jeff Weiner, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at
Wake Forest Baptist and the center’s director.
to identify the ‘neural fingerprint’ or brain biomarker for addiction, which
could help scientists develop better medications and interventions. Right now,
most of the medications available for the treatment of addiction don’t work
very well, and relapse rates are about 80 percent in the first year.”
will focus on people who are heavy drinkers and are on the path to addiction
but are not yet alcoholics, Weiner said. The research team will utilize
sophisticated brain imaging provided by functional MRI to identify neural
signatures that differentiate vulnerable from resilient people. Craving, which
is the strongest predictor of relapse in alcoholics, will be used as a
behavioral measure of vulnerability.
earlier research we found that heavy drinkers who have high levels of craving
have different patterns of connectivity in different parts of the brain than
those who don’t,” Weiner said. “We’ll be building on those findings to try to
identify specific brain changes that differentiate high- and low-craving heavy
team also plans to integrate brain imaging with interventions such as
mindfulness meditation for high-craving individuals with AUD.
co-director of the WF-TARC is Sara Jones, Ph.D., professor of physiology and
pharmacology, and the scientific director is Brian McCool, Ph.D., professor of
physiology and pharmacology, at Wake Forest Baptist.