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NIDA in the News

February 2010

Research News

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Database Created to Supplement Commercial Microarray Coverage of Addiction-Related Genes
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which scan the entire genome to find genetic variations (called SNPs) that are associated with particular diseases, have revolutionized the way scientists search for genetic causes of diseases, including drug and alcohol addiction. Most SNP research uses commercial microarrays, called "gene chips," which contain thousands of small pieces of DNA that recognize and bind to specific sequences of DNA in an experimental sample. Although a single gene chip can contain tens of thousands of small pieces of DNA, no chip can cover the entire human genome, and commercial chips tend to provide better coverage of some genomic regions than others. To test how well commercial microarrays include genes suspected to play a role in drug and alcohol addiction, researchers funded by NIDA first assembled a list of 910 genes known or suspected to be associated with addiction and found that commercial microarrays did not completely cover the possible SNPs found in these genes; for some genes, this lack of coverage was substantial. Read More ⇒

Two Thirds of Injection Drug Users in Tijuana, Mexico Have a Latent Tuberculosis Infection
Tuberculosis (TB) is more common in Mexico than in the U.S., and active TB infection can greatly increase the risk of death in HIV-positive individuals. And while HIV prevalence in Mexico is low overall, cities on the border of the U.S. and Mexico have higher rates of HIV infection. Therefore, it is important to understand the intersection of the TB and HIV epidemics on the U.S.-Mexico border. For this reason, researchers funded by NIDA performed laboratory analysis of TB infection and HIV status in 1,020 injection drug users recruited between 2006 and 2007 in Tijuana, Mexico. Read More ⇒

Many School Districts Have Punitive Responses to an Initial Positive Result from Suspicionless Random Drug Testing
Studies have estimated that about 14 percent of U.S. school districts containing high schools conduct suspicionless random drug testing (SRDT)—drug testing performed randomly whether or not selected students have shown any signs or symptoms of substance use. To better understand these school districts' responses to students' first positive SRDT, researchers funded by NIDA surveyed 205 of these school districts. Of the 162 districts included in the final analysis, most responded to initial positive drug tests by requiring parents to meet with school officials (88.4 percent of districts) or requiring the student to participate in a drug education, counseling, or treatment program (60.8 percent). Read More ⇒

CORRECTION: In our last issue, we incorrectly labeled the investigators in the research study titled, "Traumatic Brain Injury is an Understudied Risk Factor for Drug Abuse." The research investigators, Dr. Steve Grant and Dr. James Bjork, are extramural program officials in NIDA's Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research and not NIDA's Intramural Research Program. We apologize for the error!

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News Releases

Leading Medication Development Researcher Phil Skolnick joins NIDA to lead Drug Discovery Efforts
NIDA announced that Phil Skolnick, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon.), a leader in the worlds of corporate and academic drug research, has been appointed Director of NIDA's Division of Pharmacotherapies and Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse (DPMCDA). Dr. Skolnick was previously a research professor of psychiatry at New York University Langone Medical Center. He served as Chief Scientific Officer at DOV Pharmaceutical, Inc., from 2001-2009. At NIDA, he will lead a team that stimulates and conducts all phases of medications development from synthesis and screening of potential drug entities to preparing submissions for New Drug Applications. Read More ⇒

NIDA Researchers Honored With Presidential Early Career Award
PECASE winners photo

President Barack Obama talks with recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) before a group photo in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 13, 2010.
(Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson).

Two NIDA researchers were awarded the White House Office of National Science and Technology Council's Presidential Award for Early Career Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Dr. Bruce J. Hinds, III and Dr. Gonzalo E. Torres received their awards during a ceremony at the Commerce Building in Washington, DC. The PECASE was established in 1996 and is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. Read More ⇒

NIDA Researchers Discover A New Mechanism Underlying Cocaine Addiction
NIDA researchers have identified a key epigenetic mechanism in the brain that helps explain cocaine's addictiveness. The study, published in the January issue of the journal Science, shows how cocaine affects an epigenetic process (a process capable of influencing gene expression without changing a gene's sequence) called histone methylation. These epigenetic changes in the brain's pleasure circuits, which are also the first impacted by chronic cocaine exposure, likely contribute to an acquired preference for cocaine. Read More ⇒

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Other News

New NIDA IRP Website is Up and Running
IRP logo
NIDA's Intramural Research Program (IRP) has a new website, designed to provide students, postdoctoral researchers, current and potential employees, and the general public with important information about the IRP. The site explains what the IRP is and provides details on each of its branches, the individual principal investigators (PIs), and areas of research. In addition, the website is an important recruiting tool, listing employment and training opportunities as well as information about how volunteers can participate in clinical research studies. Each month, the website features a research paper by one of NIDA's intramural scientists. Coming soon to the website will be highlights of each PI's individual research program, including published papers and specific lab activities. View the website ⇒

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Who's Who at NIDA

Marsha Lopez - DESPR, NIDA-HQ Photo

Marsha Lopez, Ph.D., Branch Chief, Epidemiology Research Branch, Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research

This month What's New @ NIDA talks with Marsha Lopez, Ph.D., Branch Chief, Epidemiology Research Branch, Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research

Q: How long has NIDA been doing the Monitoring The Future (MTF) survey?

Dr. Lopez: NIDA has been funding the Monitoring the Future study as a grant to the University of Michigan and Principal Investigator Lloyd Johnston since 1975! At first the study surveyed only 12th graders and in 1991, it expanded to include 8th and 10th graders.

Q: What were the headlines this year?

Dr. Lopez: There wasn't a huge story for any particular drug this year, as there wasn't a whole lot of movement from 2008 to 2009 in use of different types of drugs. The declines we have seen in marijuana use over the past 10 plus years have pretty much stalled, and the non-medical use of prescription and over-the-counter medications continues to be an problem among these students. On the up side, methamphetamine use decreased by around 70% over the past 10 years and cigarette smoking is at its lowest point in the survey's history.

Q: How do you decide when to add a new question?

Dr. Lopez: Since this is a grant, Dr. Johnston and his team of investigators make the decisions about when to add or remove questions. They have an Advisory panel they consult with, and of course regular conversations with us at NIDA help to give them some insight into some emerging trends or concerns around the U.S. After some indications and discussions last year, questions about salvia, Adderall, and Provigil were added to the questionnaires of a subset of the students. There is an extraordinary amount of thought behind adding or removing a question because one of the great strengths of this study is its trendability over a long period of time, which wouldn't be possible if the questionnaire was changing every other year.

Q: Why is the Monitoring the Future Survey so important?

Dr. Lopez: One reason is because it has been tracking drug behaviors and attitudes for the past 35 years, so we can see how the landscape of drug use has changed over time. In addition to drug use behavior, the information about attitudes that MTF collects can sometimes be indicators of changes in drug use still to come. Another unique aspect of the MTF study is its timeliness. The students take the questionnaire during the first part of the calendar year and the results are released to the public by the end of the same calendar year — that is pretty much unheard of in large scale survey research!

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