Dr. Paul Kenny, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute, is the recipient of the 2010 Jacob P. Waletzky Memorial Award for Innovative Research in Drug Addiction and Alcoholism. He accepted the award and delivered the keynote lecture at NIDA's "Frontiers in Addiction Research" miniconference in San Diego on November 12, 2010.
Dr. Kenny's research focuses on the molecular underpinnings of addiction. In two recent animal studies, Dr. Kenny and colleagues described how a tiny molecule called microRNA-212 plays a role in determining vulnerability to cocaine addiction. The findings reveal new molecular regulators that control cocaine's impact on the brain's reward pathways and offer a new direction for the development of anti-addiction therapies. Several scientists have hypothesized that microRNAs may influence neuropsychiatric disorders, but Dr. Kenny's team is in the vanguard of examining their impact on addiction.
In another recent animal study led by Dr. Kenny, researchers found indications that strikingly similar molecular mechanisms may underlie compulsive eating and drug addiction. Although the research is in an early stage, it suggests that the techniques and approaches of addiction science may help advance the study of obesity.
The $25,000 award is presented each year to a young scientist who obtained a doctoral degree within the previous 15 years; it is intended to reward and encourage innovative research into the neurobiology of drug addiction and alcoholism. The Waletzky family established the award in 2003 in memory of Jacob P. Waletzky, who died at age 29 of cocaine-induced cardiac arrhythmia.