Professor Robert W. Williams of UTHSC Receives $2,142,745 from the National Institutes of Health for Neurogenetic Analysis on Alcoholism

Robert W. Williams, PhD, professor in the Departments of Anatomy and Neurobiology, and Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), and director of the UT Center for Integrative and Translational Genomics, has received two grants totaling $2,142,745 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The awards will be used to fund ongoing research projects for a five-year period.

The goal of this work is to understand how increased stress predisposes us to addiction and alcoholism.  The awards are part of a large NIH initiative, the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism (INIA).

“I’m fortunate to have many strong research collaborators,” said Dr. Williams. “The great thing about these grants is that both are specifically part of a very large multi-institutional collaboration.”

As part of the first project, “Systems Genetics of Alcohol Response and Stress Effects in CNS,” Dr. Williams and his team are generating molecular data sets from key parts of the brain in rodents that have become addicted to ethanol.  Like humans, individual rodents differ a great deal in their responses to alcohol — some drinking avidly, others not at all — modeling the very high level of individual variation among humans.  The team will then determine if there are firm connections between DNA differences, gene expression in key parts of the brain, and alcohol consumption as it relates to stress.  This research will be valuable in defining robust molecular signatures of vulnerability to alcohol and stress that will have significant translational relevance.  This study is supported with $1,161,475.

For the study titled, “INIA: Bioinformatics Core,” Dr. Williams and his team of bioinformaticists will process, analyze and distribute massive data sets from research conducted on the causes, prevention and treatment of alcoholism.  Data sets from various research studies will be integrated into GeneNetwork, which is a free scientific Web resource and database that allows relationships between differences in genes to be studied.  Dr. Williams’ collection and research of data will help to make connections between studies, as well as to create new avenues for further research.  To ensure that this data will get maximized use and understanding, the grant will also allow Dr. Williams and his team to provide database support and training.  The NIH has contributed $981,270 to this effort.

The National Institutes of Health, 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