The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently awarded Binghamton University researchers J. David Jentsch, Terrence Deak, Lisa Savage and Linda Spear a grant of more than $1.6 million over a five-year period for their work on the developmental effects of exposure to alcohol and drug abuse. Jentsch, Deak, Savage and Spear are all professors in the behavioral neuroscience program within BU’s psychology department.

The grant money will be awarded in $325,000 increments over a five-year period to provide graduate students and postdoctoral trainees with an interdisciplinary training program, called Development and Neuroadaptations in Alcohol and Addictions. The program focuses on researching the developmental influences of drug and alcohol use, with the intention of applying their findings to enhance human health through new treatments and preventative measures.

The faculty members who are eligible to train students in their laboratories are primarily working in behavioral neuroscience, but also include faculty in clinical psychology and in the College of Community and Public Affairs who specialize in interventions for alcohol use. Those involved will extend the use of their laboratories for the common purpose of understanding the functional and neural effects of alcohol exposure throughout brain development, as well as train students on the efficacy of interventions that may reduce problematic substance abuse in adolescents.

Jentsch, a professor of psychology and the co-director of the training program, stated that exposure to alcohol and other drugs during critical developmental vulnerability periods, or periods of brain development during adolescence, alters individuals in ways that may put them on a pathway to later mental and physical health problems, including anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Thus, Jentsch claims it is crucial to understand how exposure to alcohol or drugs alters the biology of a developing organism in ways that redirect their trajectory from health to illness.

“Only by uncovering the currently unknown biological pathways affected by alcohol and other addictive agents can we advance new methods, medical and psychological, for undoing these harmful effects and promoting a healthier lifespan for those affected,” Jentsch said.

The grant directly supports a total of four graduate students and two postdoctoral researchers who are training in laboratories by learning how to conduct research on the developmental effects of exposure to alcohol or drugs. It provides them with a stipend, tuition and funds to support their research and their professional development, allowing each of them to dedicate more time to scientific research.

Spear, a distinguished professor of psychology and the director of the Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center at BU, believes that the training grant will help create a new generation of scientists with more advanced knowledge, research skills and insights to counter the harmful effects of alcohol or drugs during developmental, vulnerability periods in adolescents.

“Alcoholism and addictions have their origins in development,” Spear said. “Consequently, the next generation of addiction researchers should be trained to conduct rigorous work that uses developmental approaches to characterize antecedents leading to alcohol- and drug-use disorders and strategies to mitigate these outcomes.”

Looking forward, Jentsch expressed his excitement in initiating the training project, stating that he believes the training grant will allow for more resources to be dedicated to expand and elevate the faculty’s efforts to recruit more talented graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to the University.

“We need a new generation of scientists with more advanced knowledge, research skills and insights to accomplish our goals,” Jentsch said. “This new award recognizes our past accomplishments in training scientists, bringing us more resources to dedicate to expanding and elevating our efforts to train a skillful new generation of developmentally oriented addictions neuroscientists.”