Examples of Potential Interdisciplinary Research Projects

Example 1: Dr. Farrer’s lab is engaged in research aimed at identifying genes conferring increased risk to substance dependence. Thus far, his group has established several robust genetic associations by applying candidate gene and computationally-driven genome-wide approaches to large human cohorts. However, few of these genes have experimental evidence linking them directly to addiction and no functional variants have been demonstrated. Dr, Farb’s laboratory uses a rodent model system to identify proteins or molecules that influence withdrawal from cocaine use. A TTPAS fellow co-mentored by these faculty could develop a project in Dr. Farrer’s lab to explore the role of a candidate gene pathway (e.g., calcium channels) in addiction and under the direction of Dr. Farb study the effect of inserting proteins encoded by genes showing significant association in humans into the striatum of addicted and control rats.

Example 2: Drs. Saitz and Ciraulo conduct ongoing drug trials for treatments for alcoholism and cocaine addiction. Historically, few drugs have shown high efficacy and the ones that do (e.g., naltrexone for alcohol addiction) are variably effective across patients. Under the joint mentorship of Dr. Saitz or Dr. Ciraulo and Dr. Farrer, a TTPAS fellow could design a pharmacogenetic study to identify genes that influence drug response. This project would require an understanding of genetics and pharmacology and development of skills in statistical genetics, bioinformatics, and clinical trials.

Example 3: Using animal models, Drs. Kantak and Kaplan are collaborating on a research project with the goal of developing a novel cognitive training strategy for improving the efficacy of exposure therapy for cocaine relapse prevention. A critical feature of this research includes an in-depth understanding of neuroplasticity changes associated with cognitive training at the structural, molecular and functional levels. Understanding these factors has the capacity to aid in treatment development in people by serving as neuroplasticity markers for treatment efficacy. The results of their combined efforts also could lead to the development of improved strategies and medications to combat cocaine addiction after exposure therapy in people. Partnering with TTPAS fellows and their mentors from the clinical/population sciences will allow for rapid dissemination of evidence-based strategies developed in rats for direct testing in humans. The fellows will develop skills that encompass state-of-the-art behavioral testing and neuroplasticity assessments in rats, and a platform for translating basic findings into clinical practice.