Marquette Wire

Four professors awarded $1.85 million grant

Photo+by+Matt+Kulling%2F+matthew.kulling%40marquette.edu
Photo by Matt Kulling/ matthew.kulling@marquette.edu

Photo by Matt Kulling/ matthew.kulling@marquette.edu

Photo by Matt Kulling/ matthew.kulling@marquette.edu

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Four professors in the College of Health Sciences were awarded a $1.85 million research grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to continue understanding the  neurobiological relationship between stress and addiction .

Paul Gasser, Robert Wheeler, John Mantsch and David Baker received the grant in September for various experiments done in their labs to detail the cellular factors that contribute to drug addiction in the brain.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a signal for communication in the brain – which stimulates the brain’s reward center. This reward center is the area stimulated during eating or sex, and the brain’s nucleus accumbens plays a large role in the process. According to the NIDA, dopamine is removed from the space where neurons, or brain cells, communicate to create a brain circuit by the dopamine transporter. Extensive research of the dopamine transporter has revealed that it can be blocked by cocaine and other drugs. This means that people who take drugs prolong dopamine’s signals by keeping it from being removed.

Until recently, the scientific community believed that the dopamine transporter was the only transporter doing this work. However, Gasser’s lab is working to explain the functions of another transporter called OCT3. Gasser’s research indicates that OCT3 is blocked by stress hormones.

“What we’re talking about is a transporter that has really not been very well studied in the brain,” Gasser said.

The four labs are working to understand how OCT3 removes dopamine and other signals related to mood, like serotonin and norepinephrine, from the synapse. While Gasser’s lab works to understand OCT3 blockage and function, Baker and Mantsch’s labs study cocaine addiction and Wheeler’s measures transporter activity. Though it is common for researchers to work together from different institutions, this collaboration among Marquette faculty is considered rare, as is winning such a large grant.

“It’s gone from 30 percent of grants being accepted to about 10 percent, so getting the grant itself could be called rare,” Gasser said. “This is a project that truly could not have happened if these four labs had not been here at Marquette.”

The funds, which have yet to be disbursed, will go toward maintaining facilities and equipment needed to conduct the experiments. They will also maintain the four labs’ abilities to bring in undergraduates, graduates and post-doctoral students to partake in the research.

“It is really cool to see how much of a collaborative experience science is,” said Austin Bohn, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences. Bohn does surgery on the animals in Wheeler’s lab so that brain activity can be analyzed by a technique found in few labs across the nation: fast-scan cyclic voltammetry. “We [students] certainly all realize we’re getting an experience that’s really unique,” Bohn said.

Wheeler said fast-scan cyclic voltammetry is an incredibly difficult technique performed with fragile equipment. Gathering data involves many failed attempts which teach students and faculty alike the value of patience and the struggles faced in scientific inquiry.

“I think that getting funding for research on this level has its biggest impact on students by allowing them to participate in preclinical scientific investigations,” said Wheeler of the grant’s impact on the Marquette community. “The more pre-clinical research that goes on at Marquette University, the better it serves our students by showing them that scientific careers can be exciting and fulfilling.”

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