Univ. gets NIH grant for study

The Yale School of Medicine announced this week that it will receive millions of dollars in funding over the next five years to support research aimed at discovering new methods of curbing addictive behaviors.

The $23.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Roadmap for Medical Research initiative will advance studies on the interactive effects of stress and self-control on addiction. Lead scientist Rajita Sinha, Yale professor of psychiatry, said the grant will be used to develop new ways, both medical and behavioral, to combat the lack of control that leads to self-destructive behaviors such as binge eating and drinking.

The School of Medicine received a $23.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to research the effects of stress and self-control on addiction.
Nick Bayless
The School of Medicine received a $23.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to research the effects of stress and self-control on addiction.

“This research has never before been developed enough to create intervention strategies,” Sinha said. “The Roadmap approach will allow us to facilitate new treatments.”

The research program will be based at Yale’s new “Stress Center.” Sinha will lead a consortium of 60 scientists from Yale as well as the University of California at Irvine and Florida State University.

“The grant will help us do 10 different research projects,” Sinha said. “There will be a lot of overlap between scientists in different fields working on different projects in order to get the most cross-disciplinary results.”

Although Yale scientists have long conducted research in fields relating to stress and substance abuse, Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said the grant will help accelerate research and enhance cross-disciplinary collaboration.

But this vital resource was not easy to come by, given the recent scarcity of grants available to institutions for medical research.

In the past year, funding for medical research has become increasingly hard to obtain, as scientists must compete for fewer grants, administrators said. Funding, especially from NIH, has leveled off over the last several years while research costs remain extremely high, Sinha said.

For example, the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research funds only nine research consortia, including the Yale program, although over 100 institutions applied for the grant this year.

Officials said Yale most likely stood out in the applicant pool because of the University’s history of effectively organizing and carrying out large-scale research projects. Sinha also said Yale is unique in having a sizeable group of scientists already conducting research on addictive behavior.

Much of this study is conducted by the Yale Research Program on Stress, Addiction and Psychopathology at the School of Medicine, which focuses on clinical, multidisciplinary research.

Projects in this program examine responses on the molecular level to stress, study adaptations in emotion and stress systems associated with chronic alcohol and drug abuse, and develop new treatments for stress-related drug and alcohol relapse. These established research programs make the grant more useful at Yale because it will create training opportunities for junior scientists to work with experts already immersed in the research, Sinha said.

This is the second major NIH Roadmap grant that Yale has received. Last year, the University was awarded a $57.3 million Clinical and Translational Science Award aimed at transforming how biomedical researchers apply laboratory discoveries to humans, enabling more efficient development of new therapies.

Other research programs receiving the NIH Roadmap grant this year will focus on a wide range of biomedical concerns, including obesity research and fertility preservation for women.

Together, the nine research projects are intended to jumpstart a new interdisciplinary approach to issues that have been resistant to traditional research methods.

The consortia are meant to develop new methods of thinking about critical biomedical problems and to transform the standard approaches of academic research, NIH director Elias Zerhouni said.

He said the goal of the Roadmap grant is “to help transform the way research is conducted.”

The nine different research teams will receive a total of $210 million over the next five years. This grant program was created in 2002, soon after Zerhouni took over as director, with the intention of creating large research networks to tackle difficult issues that no single institution could handle alone.

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