Each of the innovative and exciting research achievements described in this special issue of NIDA Notes represents a benchmark advance in NIDA's work to reduce the health and social effects of drug abuse and addiction. Each also provides a conceptual research or clinical tool that promises to transform knowledge in other health areas.
We describe, for example, a new analgesic that appears to not only lower the risk of addiction but also successfully reduce neuropathic pain that is often unresponsive to current medications in a wide range of conditions, including cancer and diabetes. Optical technologies that have the power to turn neural circuits on and off may yield information about the underpinnings of depression and serious neurological conditions. Analysis of genome-wide datasets sheds light not only on vulnerability to addiction but also on Alzheimer's disease and bipolar disorder. Research on brain development in newborns offers insights into adult neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and glaucoma.
Just as NIDA research contributes to other fields of science, discoveries in other fields hold promise for new drug abuse strategies and therapies. To encourage cross-pollination between drug abuse researchers and other scientists and to foster breakthrough research, NIDA has developed two innovative programs: Cutting-Edge Basic Research Awards (CEBRA) and the Translationally Oriented Approaches, Devices and Strategies (TOADS) Workgroup.
CEBRA supports new high-risk, potentially high-impact lines of research. Through CEBRA, NIDA both encourages the researchers that it funds to adapt technologies from other fields and invites scientists from other disciplines to apply their technologies to addiction research. In one CEBRA success story, a team led by physicist Dr. Mark J. Schnitzer developed a portable tool for visualizing blood vessels deep inside the brains of living mice, a technique expected to permit scientists to image neural circuits as they work.
Through its TOADS Workgroup, NIDA encourages creative interaction among NIDA-based researchers in basic science and those in clinical research. Staff scientists who participate in the TOADS Workgroup scout other fields for state-of-the-art technologies and treatment tools that they can adapt for use in substance abuse therapy. For example, in 2002, the Workgroup began investigating whether virtual environments might function as a behavior-modification tool to help substance abusers fight cocaine and cigarette cravings. Subsequently, CEBRA and other grants were awarded to investigate this promising area of research.
TOADS Workgroup members are now exploring online communities—on educational sites, virtual clinics, and support groups—as possible avenues for NIDA to provide millions of people with science-based information on drug abuse prevention and treatment. These developments contribute to a growing web of connections among drug abuse research, health applications, and the wider world of scientific discovery.