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Training grant advances alcohol research

A five-year, $1.6 million grant will help Binghamton University train the next generation of alcohol researchers.
The training grant from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) will support research into alcohol’s neurological effects on population groups such as adolescents as well as preventative treatments for alcohol abuse. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, announced the funding this spring.

“With continued support like this, we expect to learn even more about the negative impacts of alcohol on the human brain and how we can create more and better intervention and preventative strategies,” Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger says. “We thank Sen. Schumer and all of our federal representatives, as well as officials with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, for their acknowledgement of our work to date as well as their continued support.”

The T32 grant, titled “Training in Development and Neuroadaptations in Alcohol and Addictions,” will begin June 1 and provide nearly $325,000 per year. The grant will support four graduate students and two post-doctoral fellows, with each trainee funded for one to two years.

“The intent is to have a training program focused on the developmental antecedents of alcohol and addiction,” says Linda Spear, distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center (DEARC) at Binghamton. “If you look at adult alcoholics, virtually all of them started using alcohol when they were young. The evidence is clear that alcohol and addictions have their roots in development. Understanding these roots is critical for the development of effective prevention/intervention efforts.”

Spear said the University received the prestigious grant on its first application. Hiring drug and alcohol researchers such as J. David Jentsch, Marvin Diaz and Yao-Ying Ma during the past two years enabled Binghamton to have the “critical mass” of mentor-eligible faculty members that was necessary for development of the training program.

“I’m pleased and gratified that this was funded the first time out,” Spear says. “That is exciting.”

The pre- and post-doctoral trainees will work with faculty members across disciplinary areas that include behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology and the doctoral program in the College of Community and Public Affairs.

“Part of the training grant involves monthly meetings where research ideas and findings are shared; coursework in neural development, alcohol and addictions; training in the ethnics of research; and the development of writing and presentation skills,” says Spear, who is designing a new course for the trainees. “All aspects of the training program are designed to help the students and postdoctoral scholars excel.”

Spear stressed that the training grant will complement DEARC, a multi-university collaborative research venture now in its eighth year of federal funding.

“This will help bring more students into the DEARC,” she says. “One of the expectations of the trainees is that they will participate in monthly DEARC meetings. I think the DEARC and the new T32 will enrich each other – one is research-related and the other is training-related. They will feed off of each other.”

Initially, trainees will work in labs with funded research projects in the area of development and alcohol/addictions, Spear says. Once on the training grant, trainees will be encouraged to develop and apply for their own federal research fellowships.

“The goal is for our trainees to emerge at the forefront of research in alcohol and addictions, with state-of-the-art knowledge and skills that they can apply to understanding the developmental roots of alcoholism and addictions,” she says. “When our students graduate, we expect them to engage in challenging research that supports the field and moves it forward.”

Having pre-doctoral trainees involved is a relatively unique feature of the program, Spear says. “A lot of training programs provide support only for post-docs,” she says. “But we’ve had a long history of training exceptional graduate students in the areas of addiction and alcohol. We’re fortunate to be able to have trainees at both levels in our training program.”