Grant Funds New Substance Abuse Research Initiative
Kristin Hamre, PhD, associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), and Cynthia Kane, PhD, professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) have been named the 2016 winners of the UTHSC/UAMS USA Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) Award.
Their award, worth $50,000 total with financial support coming equally from both institutions, is designed to promote new lines of team-based substance abuse research. The grant will be used to fund their study titled, “The Role of Genetics in the Neuroimmune Response to Developmental Alcohol Exposure in the Hippocampus.”
“The immune system has a big impact on brain development,” said Dr. Hamre. “We are looking at the roles that genetics play, as well as inflammation in the developing fetal brain.”
In early June of this year, approximately 70 researchers from UTHSC and UAMS attended the inaugural Research in Substance Abuse Mini-Symposium in Little Rock. Conceived by Steven R. Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC, and Lawrence Cornett, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UAMS, the event showcased addiction research being done at both universities and provided researchers with the opportunity to meet and identify common interests. During the event, the UTHSC/UAMS USA CORNET Award in Substance Abuse was announced.
Dr. Hamre and Dr. Kane have known each other for a number of years, and recently discussed collaborating. Once the award was announced, they saw it as their opportunity to finally bring those collaborative dreams to fruition.
“The UTHSC/UAMS USA CORNET Awards in Substance Abuse gave us the platform we needed and made the idea of a research collaboration more realistic,” said Dr. Hamre. “Dr. Kane has specific expertise in the neuroimmune system, specifically related to how alcohol affects this system in our brain, and I have expertise regarding the impact that genetics has in defining one’s susceptibility to alcohol-induced neuron death in the fetal hippocampus.”
With their combined expertise in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the researchers are planning to study genetic mouse models that would help to explain the “key role that inflammation in the brain plays in the developing fetal brain,” Dr. Kane said. Presently, there is no safe amount of alcohol for mothers to drink while pregnant that will not impact a developing fetus’ brains to some degree.
“We wanted to discover why some babies were highly vulnerable to their mother’s consumption of alcohol and others seem to have a lower vulnerability,” said Dr. Kane.
The CORNET Awards are designed to be implemented in four phases: (1) UTHSC CORNET Awards, where nine teams from the Memphis campus were awarded more than $422,504 for new collaborative research initiatives in April 2016; (2) UT CORNET Awards, which will bring together researchers from multiple UT campuses across the state of Tennessee; (3) USA CORNET Awards, of which UAMS is UTHSC’s first partner university; and (4) Global CORNET Awards, which are in the planning stage.
“The UTHSC/UAMS USA CORNET Award in Substance Abuse and Addiction is our first CORNET with another academic institution,” said Dr. Goodman. “This is an example of how the combined expertise of two investigators can be brought to bear upon an important societal problem, with the CORNET Award being the catalyst for a new scientific partnership.”
Dr. Cornett is also encouraged by the newly formed relationship between investigators at UAMS and UTHSC and hopes it will pave the way for partnership grant submissions from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the universities.
“This is a collaboration between two experienced investigators trying to understand how genetic makeup influences fetal brain development in the presence of alcohol,” said Dr. Cornett. “Each investigator brings a different perspective to the research question, and Steve Goodman and I ultimately hope this will lead to a joint application for institutional funding from NIH.”