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OHSU and Portland VA Medical Center Receive $6.7 Million to Study Alcoholism

   Portland, Ore.

Oregon Health & Science University and Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) investigators have been awarded five grants totaling $6,657,464 to form and fund the Integrated Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism (INIA). The INIA is a multi-year consortium of six alcohol research groups across the country supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a component of the National Institutes of Health. Under the leadership of researchers at The Scripps Research Institute, these institutions will study the molecular basis of alcoholism.

"Recent advancements have provided researchers with numerous avenues for studying alcoholism. The main goals of this consortium are to bring into better focus basic science research into alcoholism, share research results, and direct studies in the most promising and logical directions," said John Crabbe, Ph.D., principal investigator of the genetic animal models core grant of the INIA, and director of the Portland Alcohol Research Center (PARC). PARC is partly comprised of researchers at OHSU and Portland VAMC. "Increasingly, researchers are focusing on the genetics of alcoholism due to the fact that the disease tends to run in families. We will house the genetic animal models core for mice and provide "knockout" and other genetically altered mice for alcoholism research projects at OHSU and other centers in the INIA. The other INIA member centers will share resources and establish cores in the areas of imaging (Stanford), gene expression (University of Texas) and bioinformatics (University of Colorado Health Sciences Center)."

OHSU and the Portland VAMC were named the genetic animal models core site due to their expertise in alcoholism research through the use of mouse and rat models. Deborah Finn, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience at OHSU and Christopher Cunningham, Ph.D., professor of behavioral neuroscience at OHSU, will be initiating studies to develop new animal models for studying alcohol craving and self-administration in mice and rats, respectively. Their work will result in new models of extreme alcohol overindulgence that will provide guidance into which genes could be targets for future therapies. Elaine Lewis, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at OHSU, will be studying the regulation of expression of specific genes by chronic alcohol abuse. Robert Hitzemann, Ph.D., chairman of behavioral neuroscience in OHSU's School of Medicine, is studying the brain circuitry responsible for alcoholism and the impacts of alcohol on the brain.

"While Americans understand alcohol abuse is a major problem in this country, alcoholism remains a national epidemic," said Hitzemann. "Through the formation of the INIA, we hope research will move more quickly from the laboratory to treatment facilities."

According to the NIAAA:

  • One in every 13 adults abuses alcohol or is considered an alcoholic.
  • About a third of the approximately 40,000 traffic fatalities each year are alcohol-related.
  • Alcohol problems are highest among young adults ages 18 - 29 and lowest among adults ages 65 and older.
  • People who start drinking early in life -- age 14 or younger -- greatly increase their chances of developing alcohol problems later in life.

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