Assistant Professor WenLin Sun Receives $1.42 Million Grant for Cocaine Addiction Research

Dr. Wen Lin Sun 2The widespread disease of drug addiction puts a heavy burden on addicts, their families, and the public. The abuse of and addiction to illegal drugs costs society an estimated $181 billion per year. Among contraband drugs, cocaine is one of the most widely abused and addictive substances in the U.S.  Currently, there are no pharmacotherapies effective in stopping this disease. In order to develop such therapies, it is essential to understand the mechanisms underlying cocaine addiction. WenLin Sun, MD, PhD, aims to do just that with new grant funding.

“The long-term goal of my research is to understand the brain mechanism underlying drug addiction,” said Dr. Sun, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).  He received a grant totaling $1,425,000 from the National Institute on Drugs, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health. The study titled, “Cocaine Addiction: Neuropharmacological Mechanisms of Compulsive Cocaine Use,” is being conducted over a five-year period.

“This award allows us to look at drug addiction from a novel perspective.  I hope that the knowledge to be gathered from this grant will significantly advance our understanding of drug addiction and be used to develop novel anti-addiction pharmacotherapies,” he said.

One of the hallmarks of cocaine addiction is continued cocaine-seeking and cocaine-taking behavior, despite the devastating consequences. This behavior suggests that the brain function involved in deterrence is impaired. Thus, the goal of this grant is to understand the basic brain mechanism underlying such impairment.  Once such a mechanism is identified, Dr. Sun and his research team can develop pharmacotherapies to repair the mechanism and consequently, control the compulsive cocaine use. Such therapies will play a critical role in clinical management of cocaine addiction.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.