Oregon Health & Science University – one of the nation’s premier alcoholism research centers – will receive more than $1.3 million from the estate of a California businessman determined to make a difference in the fight against the disease.
John R. Andrews, a San Diego-area investment manager and venture capitalist, died in 2006 at age 80. A trust he established before his death will provide support for OHSU’s alcohol-related research, particularly projects aimed at isolating its genetic causes and at developing genetically personalized drugs for treatment. The funds will support the work of John Crabbe, Ph.D., director of the Portland Alcohol Research Center (PARC), a collaboration of OHSU and the Portland VA Medical Center. Crabbe is a professor of behavioral neuroscience at OHSU and a VA senior career research scientist.
“It is difficult to express just how important this gift will be to our work,” Crabbe said. “My colleagues and I are moved by Mr. Andrews’ generosity, and his gift will allow us to pursue some of our most exciting findings with vigor.”
Andrews was an Indiana native, World War II veteran and avid yachtsman. During his successful business career, he managed funds that financed the launch of numerous electronics, computer and biotechnology start-ups. Developing a concern later in life about the problems of alcoholism, he began to educate himself on recent trends in alcoholism and addiction research.
After evaluating research programs at academic institutions across the nation, he singled out only two – OHSU and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – for his support. Andrews’ trust provided like amounts to both institutions.
Funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health, PARC is a focal point of OHSU’s collaborative efforts with the Portland VAMC in alcohol- and addiction-related science. One of only 18 federally designated alcohol research centers in the nation, PARC is unique in its focus on gene mapping techniques to locate genes implicated in alcoholism, and in the discovery of how these genes function in the brain’s response to chronic alcohol. “Our work in mice enables us to assess the genetic risks for alcoholism in humans. Because mouse and human genomes are so similar, this will lead us to better prevention of the disease through effective screening and counseling of those at risk,” Crabbe said.
A portion of Andrews’ gift will be used to recruit and support a series of Andrews Scholars. These junior faculty members will be recruited to the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience or another unit to complement Crabbe’s collaborators’ research in pharmacogenomics of alcohol dependence and excessive drinking.
“This gift will have a substantial impact on our search for clues to the genetic mysteries of alcoholism,” Crabbe said. “In these times of lean financial support, adding a series of up-and-coming researchers to our ranks will exponentially expand our capabilities to study the complex combination of genetic and environmental factors behind this destructive disease.”
Genetics studies of alcoholism pose unique challenges, Crabbe said. Many diseases with a heavy genetic contribution are the result of only one defective gene and, as far as scientists know, inheritance of that gene is not influenced by environmental factors such as diet, family, social/economic issues, or peer influence. “With alcohol, a person’s risk of becoming an alcoholic is apparently influenced by many different genes, and the role of these environmental factors is equally important. It is becoming clearer that having risky gene variants isn’t usually enough; a risk-promoting environment is probably often needed to send a person down this destructive road.”
Genetic mapping techniques have helped researchers identify the location of individual genes that affect response to alcohol in mice, including particular genes that contribute to severe alcohol withdrawal and another gene that appears to reduce the severity of withdrawal. One gene in particular, Mpdz, shows promise in the genetic study of human alcoholism. In identifying Mpdz in mice, PARC researchers became the first in the world to locate specific genes that influence alcohol responses in mice. Collaborators are looking for evidence of genetic variants in the human MPDZ gene that affect alcoholism risk.
“We are grateful to Mr. Andrews and his family for their generous support,” said Robert J. Hitzemann, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience. “In directing this support to Dr. Crabbe and his group, there is no question that we are investing in some of the most promising research in alcoholism under way in the nation today. Gifts like this are vital to our ability to make progress against the challenges of alcoholism and addiction.”
About the OHSU Foundation
The OHSU Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that exists to secure private philanthropic support for Oregon Health & Science University. The foundation raises funds from individuals, companies, foundations and organizations, and invests and manages gifts in accordance with donors’ wishes.