The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded Wake Forest University School of Medicine a renewal grant of $8 million over five years for research on alcohol use disorder.
With the support of the grant, the Wake Forest Translational Alcohol Research Center will build upon a highly productive translational alcohol research program that was established with prior support from the NIH.
According to the NIAAA, more than 140,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year in the U.S., and an estimated 15 million people have alcohol use disorder.
“Our center’s primary research focus is understanding what makes people vulnerable to alcohol use disorder,” said Jeffrey L. Weiner, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the center’s director.
The center seeks to identify behavioral adaptations and brain mechanisms that contribute to vulnerability and resilience to alcohol use disorder. For example, one ongoing study seeks to understand how abstinence alters craving and brain network connectivity in risky drinkers. And a recent study, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, analyzed chemical fluctuations in the brain in patients with alcohol use disorder.
Researchers are also examining brain network dynamics associated with hazardous drinking by analyzing a dataset from the National Consortium on Alcohol and Neurodevelopment in Adolescence, a longitudinal study that is collecting brain imaging and alcohol consumption history from adolescents over eight years.
“There’s a lot of research on the role of genetics in alcohol addiction, but we’re learning more about how environmental factors such as early-life adversity, poverty and childhood stress have a huge influence on the brain and its susceptibility to neuropsychiatric disorders including alcohol use disorder,” Weiner said. “Our hope is that our research will lead to evidence-based therapies for those who are most at risk.”
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