Alcoholism research gets $7M grant

The National Institutes of Health have renewed a $7 million grant to School of Medicine professors studying alcoholism, which researchers hope will help bridge the gap between the laboratory and the patient’s bedside.

The grant comes just a week after the NIH gave $24.3 million to the Medical School to study stress-related addictive behaviors, including alcoholism. Though the newer grant might pale in comparison, the lead researcher said he hopes it will enable his lab to turn experimental breakthroughs into clinical treatments that can be used to help patients.

John Krystal, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience of Alcoholism — the main group that will use the grant — said the money will be allocated to help direct the brainpower of Yale scientists to not simply producing lab results, but to promoting tangible progress in the treatment of the illness.

“The gap between basic research advances and new clinical insights and treatments remains a critical obstacle to progress in the field of alcoholism research,” he said in a press release.

Krystal used a similar grant to found the center in 2000, with the aim of combining research and clinical efforts. The center’s approach to alcoholism research is based on supporting a wide range of pilot studies that investigate all aspects of the problem.

Graeme Mason, assistant professor of psychiatry and a researcher for CTNA, currently leads a pilot study that investigates various risk factors for developing alcoholism. As part of his research, Mason injects patients with alcohol through an IV to raise their blood alcohol content to .06, and then measures their brains’ chemical responses to the alcohol. The overarching goal of his work, he said, is to unite what he called bench-top experimental work with human research: going from “bench-top to bedside.”

“We’re trying to see what it is that makes people vulnerable,” Mason said. “If you knew that, if it were possible to say, ‘You have a 70 percent chance of becoming alcohol-dependent,’ then you could warn that person and they would be more careful of drinking.”

Psychiatry professor Joel Gelernter leads research on the genetic front for CTNA. Gelernter’s projects focus on finding risk factors for alcoholism on the DNA level, which he says will allow for more specific and effective clinical treatments.

Krystal said that understanding the biological motivations behind heavy drinking will ultimately lead to new techniques to treat the disorder, and the $7 million grant will further that aim for the next five years.

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