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With $1.7 million grant, UB will expand alcoholism research training program

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Mon, Jun 28th 2021 10:05 am

At a time when alcoholism is on the rise, NIAAA grant allows UB to train predoctoral students in addition to postdocs

By the University at Buffalo

The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA) has awarded $1.7 million to the Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions (CRIA) and the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo to expand its successful postdoctoral training program to include doctoral candidates as well.

For 21 years, the CRIA has had sustained funding under the program known as T32 (the Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award) from the NIAAA for its postdoctoral training program, supporting and training postdoctoral fellows for careers in research on alcohol and alcoholism. Those fellows typically go on to conduct major research studies designed to develop more effective ways to prevent and treat alcoholism.

Now, as a result of CRIA’s success with that program – 35 researchers have completed the training during the past two decades – the new NIAAA funding allows the training program to expand those opportunities to graduate students pursuing their doctorates at UB.

The program’s co-principal investigators are Kenneth E. Leonard, Ph.D., CRIA director and research professor of psychiatry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and professor on the graduate faculty in the department of psychology in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences; and Gregory G. Homish, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.

“Our successful postdoctoral training program, which has been continuously funded for the past 21 years, demonstrated important strengths that have led to this expansion of our program,” Leonard said.

“Switching from all postdoctoral training to both pre- and postdoctoral training is a major transition for the program,” he said. “It lets us reach students earlier in their academic careers to help them develop expertise in research on alcohol and drug use. When graduate students are involved in research early in their training, they are more likely to remain committed to research addressing the development and treatment of alcohol use disorders.”

Leonard noted the expansion of the program comes at an opportune time, as alcohol use and its associated problems have been increasing during the past 20 years. In particular, many of the increases, such as binge drinking, are happening with groups traditionally seen as lower risk populations for alcohol use, such as women and older adults.

The expanded program can contribute to new solutions and treatments by engaging students earlier in their training, with the goal of creating the next generation of alcohol researchers and clinicians, Homish explained.

“Ideally, the way we have established it, this award will enable us to reach more students,” Homish continued. “Over time, we could double the number of graduate students involved in the training program.”

The program provides prospective trainees with the foundation they need to pursue careers in alcohol research, as well as the foundations they need to appreciate interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and reducing alcohol use disorders and their consequences.

The new funding builds on CRIA’s reorganization in late 2018, when the Research Institute on Addictions, as it was called previously, added new faculty members, strengthened connections with UB’s academic departments and community partners, deepened multidisciplinary collaborations, and added new training and educational opportunities.

Those changes involved integrating addictions research, clinical care and education at UB, leveraging the university’s longstanding research programs on alcoholism and other substance use disorders and their societal effects with powerful clinical addiction services and training programs.

The recent expansion of the NIAAA program was made possible by CRIA’s collaboration with UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, the School of Social Work, the department of psychology and the department of pharmacology and toxicology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The grant extends training funding for CRIA through 2025, which will be the program’s 25th year.

The program’s steering committee members are Clara Bradizza, Ph.D., professor, School of Social Work; Craig Colder, Ph.D., professor, department of psychology; Samir Haj-Dahmane, Ph.D., professor, department of pharmacology and toxicology; and Heather Orom, Ph.D., associate professor, department of community health and health behavior and associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, School of Public Health and Health Professions.

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