Researcher Awarded $1.9 Million to Study Addiction

May 14, 2012

A UT Dallas researcher has been awarded $1.9 million to support her studies of genetic and environmental factors related to marijuana addiction.

Dr. Francesca Filbey, assistant professor at the Center for BrainHealth in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, received the funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Despite the long history of cannabis use, which dates back to more than 2,500 years, we still know very little about its effects on the brain. It is the most widely used illegal substance in the United States, contributing to marijuana dependence being the most prevalent of all illicit drug dependencies,” Filbey said. “Studying how the brain responds to reward and punishment will have far-reaching implications for a number of problems such as obesity, pain management and drug addiction.”

As part of the study, more than 100 research participants will undergo brain imaging while being presented with drug-use related cues, such as paraphernalia, to examine the neural mechanisms of craving. Participants will also be psychologically evaluated to identify environmental stressors that are risk factors for marijuana dependence.

“This project will take advantage of the latest advancements in neuroimaging and genetics to determine brain biomarkers that lead to addiction. Through Dr. Filbey's research, the hope is to characterize predictors of drug dependence that could then facilitate timely and efficacious prevention and treatment.”

Dr. Eric Nestler,
Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center

“Interventions for drug dependence are often ineffective, and relapse rates can be as high as 90 percent,” said leading addiction researcher Dr. Eric Nestler, chair of the Department of Neuroscience and director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center and member of the Center for BrainHealth’s scientific advisory board. “This project will take advantage of the latest advancements in neuroimaging and genetics to determine brain biomarkers that lead to addiction. Through Dr. Filbey's research, the hope is to characterize predictors of drug dependence that could then facilitate timely and efficacious prevention and treatment.”

Dr. Filbey’s research seeks to illuminate how early life experiences can interact with and change an individual’s genetic makeup to produce brain changes that lead to marijuana dependence.

Dr. Sandi Chapman, founder and chief director for the Center for BrainHealth, said, “The cost of addiction is high, both for the individual and society. If we can gain a full view of the biological and environmental factors that lead to addiction, we can produce more targeted and effective treatments and interventions that will allow more individuals to realize their full potential and lead productive lives.”


Media Contact: Shelly Kirkland, UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, (214) 905-3007, shelly.kirkland@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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Dr. Francesca Filbey

Dr. Francesca Filbey's study seeks to understand how life experience and genetics affect marijuana dependence.

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