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Pharmacy researcher wins $2.3 million NIH award to study opioid addiction

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas researcher is taking a new approach to America’s prolific opioid addiction problem. With a $2.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Zijun Wang will investigate the implications of the DNA breakage and repair process in opioid use disorder.

Wang’s work is based on the premise that opioid addiction is a psychiatric disorder caused by molecular changes in the brain that alter behavior.

“Drug addiction is not a moral wrong,” said Wang, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology. “In terms of addiction, the reward pathway in the brain is hijacked by repeated exposure to drugs. Drug-induced structural changes result in many abnormal behaviors, including reduced inhibitory control that prevents someone from avoiding behaviors with consequences negative”.

The human genome consists of more than 3 billion base pairs of DNA, containing more than 20,000 genes. This genetic material is used in complex biochemical processes in the function, development and replication of human cells. Wang said the genome is under attack from several sources. Normally, the DNA repair process can overcome these attacks, but repeated drug exposure can disrupt this process, “changing gene expression, cell function, and causing abnormal behaviors linked to drug addiction.” drugs”.

Wang’s research focuses on the DNA breakage and repair processes altered by addiction. Ultimately, Wang said, he aims to “help the genome maintain a normal or healthy environment in the cell and identify a potential therapy for these patients to prevent them from relapsing into drug use.”

The therapeutic approach needed to target DNA breaks has not yet been developed, but could come in the form of a drug or gene therapy. “Right now, we’re still in the early stages, but ultimately we want to provide new insight for the development of future therapies,” Wang said. “The first thing we want to do is get a clearer idea of ​​the neurobiology underlying this opioid addiction.”

“The work in this grant addresses a critical issue: what causes drug users to relapse into drug use after they successfully stop using drugs,” said Nancy Muma, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “Zijun has developed a novel approach to determine whether the problem is damage to the person’s genes. If this is the case, future research can begin to address ways to mitigate gene damage to prevent or reduce relapse.”

“This is new research that no one else has done before,” Wang said. “How does DNA damage contribute to opioid addiction? We’re trying to make a link between them. At the end of the day, we want to find a treatment that can reduce drug-seeking behavior.”

This grant is funded through the Future of Genetics or Epigenetics of Substance Use Disorders program which supports highly creative early-stage researchers who propose innovative studies that open up new areas of research for the genetics or epigenetics of the addiction

Photo: Zijun Wang, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Kansas.


Source: Pharmacy researcher wins $2.3 million NIH award to study opioid addiction

Fighting Addiction and Eliminating the Stigma | MSU today


More than 20 million Americans are struggling with addiction, but there are only 4,400 addiction specialists to help them. Between May 20, 202021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drug overdose deaths in the United States exceeded 100,000 and in Michigan, there were 2,570 overdose deaths.

Dear Poland

“Addiction is killing far more people than we like to acknowledge or have the means to acknowledge,” said Cara Poland, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at State University’s College of Human Medicine. of Michigan. “We know that most doctors only get two to 10 hours of education in addictions in medical school and their residency, and we’re doing something about that.”

In 2018, using $1.5 million in state opioid response funds, Poland and partners from MSU and Wayne State University created the Michigan Collaborative Addiction Resources and Education System. The MI CARES program guides and supports physicians through the Practice Pathway program for the subspecialty of addiction medicine.

“At the time, we were just a pilot program with a modest goal: to train half a dozen Michigan physicians as addiction specialists,” Poland said. “But word spread, and so far, nearly 500 doctors from 46 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signed up for the training.”

Prior to 2019, Michigan had fewer than 200 physicians certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties to treat addiction with none practicing in the Upper Peninsula. With the help of MI CARES, these numbers are increasing. Now, there are an additional 115 physicians enrolled in the program in Michigan, including seven physicians from the Upper Peninsula.

The program has recently expanded to include students from Michigan State University’s Department of Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Nursing. The MI CARES program is available to first-year medical students at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and as an elective for current students. Of the 36 first-year electives taught by Poland and Jamie Alan, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, all 36 said they would recommend the elective to a colleague.

With a second round of funding extending to September 2022, Poland is modifying the MI CARES curriculum so that other medical schools can use it in their programs. An important part of this is removing stigmas that place blame on substance use disorders or SUDs.

“Studies show that when we use the words ‘substance abuse’ in our notes, we literally provide worse care to our patients and when we use ‘substance use,’ we provide better care,” Poland said. “What easier way to provide better care than just changing the words we use?”

The hope is that training like the MI CARES program will reduce the stigma of SUDs and help doctors recognize that a patient with an SUD is just like any other patient with a chronic illness. For Poland, the issue of substance use disorder is more than a professional interest, it’s a personal one.

“My younger brother died as a result of his alcohol use disorder,” Poland said. “I was already becoming an addiction specialist, but his death ignited my fire. It used to be a job and now it’s my passion. It’s my life.”


Source: Fighting Addiction and Eliminating the Stigma | MSU today