Monday,
December 22, 2014

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Grant Aids Researcher's Quest to Find Factors Behind Addiction

Award Offered by National Institutes of Health to Support Work and Training for Predoctoral Students

Derek Beaton

Derek Beaton uses statistical techniques to identify factors that help researchers better understand substance abuse.

A doctoral student will use a grant from the National Institutes of Health to further his investigation of the factors behind substance abuse and addiction.  

Derek Beaton, of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS), received the Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award for Predoctoral Fellows, which is awarded to help advance recipients’ research and education.

Beaton’s work involves creating new ways of analyzing massive amounts of data, often called “big data,” to detect potential genetic, environmental and behavioral contributions to substance abuse and addiction. Specifically, he is developing methods based on a statistical technique called Partial Least Squares.

Beaton says this method of looking at hundreds of thousands or even millions of variables is particularly well-suited for identifying genetic risk factors for addiction.

“I am very fortunate to have a team of sponsors who will oversee my training throughout the fellowship and who have incredible levels of expertise and knowledge,” Beaton said.

Dr. Hervé Abdi, Dr. Francesca Filbey and Dr. Michael Zhang, Beaton’s faculty sponsors at UT Dallas, will work with him on the project. Beaton also has faculty sponsors from UT Southwestern Medical Center.

In recent years, brain and behavioral scientists have been able to collect unprecedented amounts of data. ... The problem is that the rate that we collect the data outpaces our analytical tools.

Derek Beaton, researcher,
School of Behavioral
and Brain Sciences

“In recent years, brain and behavioral scientists have been able to collect unprecedented amounts of data,” Beaton said. “Data range from neuropsychological batteries, to brain imaging, to genomics. The problem is that the rate that we collect the data outpaces our analytical tools.”

With newer methods, the researchers can analyze behavioral, brain and genetic data at the same time – providing a better understanding of the process of substance abuse.

The Grant Writing for Researchers graduate course, taught by associate professor Dr. Tres Thompson, gave Beaton the inspiration to apply for the grant.

“Grant writing is a vital skill for all scientists, regardless of their research area,” Thompson said. “Derek receiving this grant not only ensures that the rest of his graduate training is paid for, but also establishes a personal track record as a successful grant seeker. This record will aid him in getting his next grant after he finishes his doctoral work at UTD, and the next, and the next.”

About 28 percent of applicants were awarded the fellowships worldwide in 2012. Beaton is the seventh recipient in UT Dallas history, all of which have been BBS students.

"BBS has been fortunate to have several recipients of these awards in the past, and we are very proud of Derek's current success,” said Dr. Bert Moore, dean of BBS and Aage and Margareta Møller Distinguished Professor. “This award is highly competitive and serves as a testimony to both Derek's record of accomplishment and the creativity and impact of his proposal."

Media Contact: Ben Porter, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2193, ben.porter@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.


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