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$35 Million Alcohol Grant Awarded to Consortium led by Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute

La Jolla, CA. October 22, 2001 -- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has funded a multi-year consortium headed by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) to identify the molecular basis of alcoholism.

"Despite many years of independent study of the biochemistry and physiology [and] systems and processes hypothesized to be involved in alcoholism, the mechanisms are still unclear," says George F. Koob, Ph.D., who is the program director of the grant and professor in the Department of Neuropharmacology at TSRI.

"For instance, we know that the children of alcoholics are four to five times more likely to become alcoholics themselves, but we do not know what the neurological basis for this trait is," he continued.

Alcoholism, a chronic disease characterized by compulsive use of alcohol and loss of control over alcohol intake, is devastating both to individuals and their families and to society in general. About a third of the approximately 40,000 traffic fatalities every year involve drunk drivers, and direct and indirect public health costs are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars yearly. Currently, there is no cure for alcoholism.

The aim of the consortium grant is to address the basic science of alcoholism and to establish a platform upon which future treatments can be built.

The grant, titled "Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism," aims to combine physiological, molecular, and cellular models to derive the genetic and environmental factors that form the basis for individual differences in developing excessive drinking.

A large portion of the funding of the grant will be dedicated to setting up certain shared common facilities that will centralize and enhance some of the tasks common to the researchers with independently funded research projects.

A neuroinformatics group, for instance, will make use of the newly solved human and the soon- to-be-completed mouse genomes to interpret "gene chip" screens needed to identify the genes involved. Certain gene clusters are regulated by alcohol and may be differentially regulated during the development of excessive drinking.

Another group will establish animal models of alcoholism that will be used to study these genes in action.

"It's very possible that we are going to find brain areas that code for certain proteins responsible for the individual differences that make 15 percent of the population vulnerable to alcoholism and/or that protect 85 percent," says Dr. Koob. "Once we know the circuits and the basis for alcoholism, we can develop new targeted treatments."

The NIAAA is one of the 18 institutes that comprise 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.

Prominent researchers participating from other key sites in the consortium include Drs. John Crabbe and Robert Hitzemann at Oregon Health Sciences University, Dr. Adron Harris at University of Texas-Austin, Dr. Ting Kai Li at Indiana University Medical Center, Dr. Adolf Pfefferbaum at Stanford Research Institute, and Dr. Boris Tabakoff at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.


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