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Kathleen Grant, Ph.D

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SW: What day-to-day applications do you think your research has for both clinicians and non-clinicians?

KG: For the non-clinician, the monkey model of individual risk in developing excessive drinking should help dispel popular explanations that AUDs are solely the result of a lack of will or restricted to families of alcoholics. Rather, there are large influences both external - such as the restrictions placed by society - and internal - such as how alcohol makes you feel in the moment - superimposed on a background of personal history, that interplay to result in alcohol addiction.

For the clinician, we have found that in vivo brain imaging can show cortical brain shrinkage, similar to alcoholics, but with the added information of the threshold dose of effect and an estimation of cortical loss per additional daily drink. We are exploring brain areas, and genes within those brain areas, that are particularly vulnerable to long-term adaptations and damage due to alcohol in order to help tailor pharmacotherapies. Finally, we have evidence for specific brain circuitry involved in the brain mechanisms that are predominant in propagating the ability to repeatedly drink 12-24 drinks per day; intakes that are equal to double or triple the lethal dose in a naive individual. Being able to understand how the already intoxicated individual can continue to drink is a basic scientific question that should provide important insight into how to control or eliminate the process of drinking to alcohol dependence.

SW: What does your recent award – the Begleiter Excellence in Research Award – mean to you on a personal level?

KG: It is a privilege to be recognized by my mentors and peers in the RSA and to be included in this distinction with the past recipients who have all been leaders in the field. Because the award is meant to acknowledge a lifetime of achievements in translational science, I am particularly honored because my career has been devoted to using animal models of alcohol addiction to improve our public health.

SW: What would you like to see happen in the addiction-research field?

KG: We have all the pieces to understand and change the course of alcohol addiction. Our diagnostics are based on solid epidemiological, cognitive, and cellular science data, our genetics research is highly sophisticated and at the cutting edge of applications in complex disorders, our understanding of dose thresholds for adverse biomedical outcomes and the capacity for organ systems to recover is progressing at a rapid pace, and our understanding of vulnerable stages in life, such as fetal development, adolescence, and the senior years, have provided important prevention strategies. I think we will soon have sensitive, reliable, and accurate biomarker information based in multiple parameters of blood proteins and ribonucleic acid (RNA) that will be easily assessed and available in clinical centers. Perhaps the biggest barrier will be to develop individualized therapeutics for patients presenting with AUDs, because the data show that different populations – like adolescents, women, ethnic minorities, etc. – have different responses to current behavioral and drug therapies.

SW: What advice do you have for people now entering addiction research?

KG: Addiction is the result of multifaceted factors, and so my advice to early-stage scientists is to push themselves to understand not only their main area of interest, such as genetics, but also other aspects at the level of another scientific discipline, such as cognitive function. Addiction is an area of research that crosses all scientific boundaries and extends beyond clinical medicine into social norms, so curiosity will be their best partner in sustaining a fruitful career.

SW: Any last words for the ATTC audience?

KG: My commitment to alcohol research evolved through my desire to understand behavior. Alcohol holds an incredibly important place in the course of human history, politics, economics, agriculture, community health, family medicine and personal health. To be a part of the scientific discoveries of how this simple 2-carbon molecule can become such a powerful force in human behavior is a privilege and a great opportunity.

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