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Major Grant for Tobacco Dependence Treatment Research

The School of Medicine has been awarded a major grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support continued multi-disciplinary research on the treatment of nicotine dependence. This  $9.3 million award is one of seven in the country that will support transdisciplinary research on nicotine dependence for the next five years.

The Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC) is directed by Dr. Caryn Lerman, Mary W. Calkins Professor in the department of psychiatry and the Annenberg Public Policy Center and associate director for Cancer Control and Population Science in the Abramson Cancer Center. Dr. Wade Berrettini, Karl Rickels Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, is the co-principal investigator of the Center.

The TTURC, beginning its sixth year of funding, is a collaboration among researchers from many disciplines in several schools and institutes within Penn, including the Abramson Cancer Center, the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, the Center for Studies of Addiction, the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and the Annenberg School for Communication. 

These researchers include Dr. Julie Blendy,  from the department of pharmacology; Dr. Janet Audrain, Dr. Margaret Rukstalis,  Dr. Paul Wileyto, Dr. Christopher Jepson and Dr. Steven Siegel, from the department of psychiatry; Dr. Daniel Heitjan from the department of epidemiology & biostatistics; Dr. David Asch, Dr. Sanford Schwartz and Janet Weiner, from the department of medicine and Dr. David Fenstermacher from the Abramson Cancer Center.

The TTURC is also closely linked with the NCI Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research in the Annenberg School of Communication, directed by Dr. Robert Hornik, in collaboration with Dr. Joseph Cappella, Dr. Martin Fishbein, and Dr. Caryn Lerman.

With this award, TTURC investigators seek to translate discoveries in basic neuroscience, pharmacology, genetics and behavioral science to improve treatment for nicotine dependence.  In its first five years, the Penn TTURC provided the first evidence for effects of specific genetic variants on smoking cessation and response to pharmacotherapy for nicotine dependence, generated new data on bio-behavioral mechanisms of response to treatment, developed new tools and applied new methods to analyze smoking cessation clinical trial data and identified pre-treatment measures that can be used in clinical practice to tailor choice of treatment for individual smokers. 

Through the TTURC’s original policy project led by Dr. Alexandra Shields, associate professor at the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, TTURC researchers have begun to identify emerging health policy and ethical issues in the translation of research on genetics and smoking to clinical practice.

The new TTURC award funds four primary scientific projects. These include:

The Role of CREB and Opioid System in Nicotine Reward. Led by Dr. Julie Blendy, this project uses an animal model of nicotine reward to investigate the role of CREB and the Mussolini receptor in the rewarding value of nicotine and evaluates the role of naloxone, an opioid antagonist medication. 

Efficacy of extended Patch Treatment by OPRM1 Genotype. Led by Dr. Caryn Lerman, this placebo-controlled clinical trial investigates the effectiveness of standard vs. extended dose nicotine patch therapy in smokers who have different genetic variants for the mu opioid receptor gene.

Atomoxetine: Effects on Smoking Behavior. Led by Dr. Margaret Rukstalis, this project uses a human laboratory model to investigate the effects of atomoxetine (a drug used to treat inattention and impulse control symptoms) on smoking behavior following a brief period of abstinence from smoking.

Improved Human Screening of Cessation Medications. Led by Dr. Kenneth Perkins, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, this project refines the methods used for human laboratory studies aimed at screening medications.

In addition to the four primary projects, the new TTURC will support and integrate the work of TTURC researchers through a state-of-the-art Genetics Core (led by Dr. Wade Berrettini) and Biomedical Informatics Core (led by Dr. David Fenstermacher and Dr. Dan Heitjan).  The Research to Practice Core (led by Dr. David Asch and Dr. Alexandra Shields) will identify key ethical practical and policy issues related to the translation of TTURC research into improved treatments and disseminate scientific findings to other scientists, policy makers and the public. The TTURC will also train tobacco control scientists through the TTURC Training Core (led by Drs. Audrain and Schwartz). Through a Developmental Research Core, the TTURC will support multi-disciplinary pilot studies relevant to tobacco dependence and treatment.

“The renewal of the Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center provides a unique opportunity to conduct multi-disciplinary research to develop new treatment models that can be readily translated to the clinical setting in order to maximize the efficacy of nicotine dependence treatment.  The University of Pennsylvania provides an optimal setting for conducting multidisciplinary translational research,” said Dr. Lerman.



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 19, February 1, 2005


February 1, 2005
Volume 51 Number 19


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