Yale Receives $9 Million Grant to Apply Research Findings To Problem of Alcoholism

Yale School of Medicine researchers have received a $9 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to help translate research findings about alcoholism into treatment for patients.

The five-year grant to John Krystal, M.D., the Albert E. Kent Professor of Psychiatry at Yale, will fund the new Center for Translational Neuroscience of Alcoholism (CTNA) at Yale. “The CTNA was formed to create links between basic research advances and the development of new treatments for alcoholism,” Krystal said.

The CTNA is organized into two divisions. The Molecular Division is co-led by Eric Nestler, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Tex., and Joel Gelernter, director of clinical molecular genetics in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale. The Clinical Core is co-led by Stephanie O’Malley, professor and director of the Division of Substance Abuse at Yale University and Marc Laruelle, M.D., director of the Division of Neuroimaging in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City.

It was a Yale researcher, E. M. Jellinek, who pioneered the hypothesis that alcoholism is a medical illness. Over the years, researchers have identified ethanol targets in the brain and specific genes that present a vulnerability for alcoholism. “With new imaging tools to look at brain chemicals, and molecular genetics studies, we now have an opportunity to observe broad clinical implications from molecular neuroscience,” Krystal said.

The CTNA is designed to better define the biochemical and functional characteristics of a brain circuit that appears to be involved in the vulnerability to alcoholism and the characteristics of alcohol dependence. This circuit involves a brain region involved in higher cognitive processes, the frontal cortex, and emotion, the limbic system. The “translational” mission of the center involves the effort to use fundamental insights gained from basic research to guide clinical research studies in people vulnerable to developing alcoholism or suffering with alcoholism. These mechanistic human research studies are possible because of new advances in molecular genetics as well as in positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that make it feasible to study many aspects of the structure, chemistry and function of specific regions in the brain.

Krystal highlighted the critical nature of the collaboration between scientists and the community in solving the urgent problems associated with alcohol dependence. “We can only accomplish the goals of the center with the help of people in the community who volunteer for studies,” he said. Studies associated with the CTNA are actively seeking healthy individuals with and without family histories of alcohol problems as well as heavy social drinkers and individuals dependent on alcohol.

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