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VCU Reaps $6.9M for Center Targeting Gene Networks Underlying Alcohol Use Disorders

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A research team at Virginia Commonwealth University has received a $6.9 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to expand its research program examining the molecular and genetic causes of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

The five-year grant will expand the VCU Alcohol Research Center and fund five research projects and pilot grants that will use genetics and genomics to study alcohol use disorders (AUDs), VCU said today.

The multidisciplinary center engages scientists from the VCU School of Medicine's Departments of Human and Molecular Genetics, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Psychiatry, whose studies will focus on gene networks involved in alcoholism, as opposed to single-gene studies.

"Recent advances in genetics and molecular neuroscience indicate that many genes influence the risk for alcoholism, each likely with small contribution," Michel Miles, the center's scientific director and a professor at VCU, said in a statement.

Miles added that the center is attempting to translate this information into new treatments "by focusing on gene networks so that we can identify major control 'hubs' influencing alcohol behaviors. We also are using a cross-species genetic approach to more rapidly validate that such hubs indeed act on alcohol-related behaviors."

Broadly, the research will focus on gene networks that contribute to AUD phenotypes, cross-species genetic and genomic analysis to validate candidate genes and networks, and human genetics studies that assess targeted genetic influences on human responses to ethanol in a controlled environment. The funding also will expand the center to make it highly integrative with rapid data sharing capabilities and a cross-species analysis pipeline that can be used in further experiments. All of the studies will be supported by an analytic and informatics core, a rodent behavioral core, and an administrative core.

VCU Alcohol Research Center Director Kenneth Kendler said the center has combined its expertise in animal models of the effects of alcohol with the research program in human molecular genetics at VCU's Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.

"Using increasingly sophisticated statistical and bioinformatic methods, we have built scientific bridges between the effects of genes on the responses to alcohol in worms, fruit flies, mice, rats and humans…. The combined power of these methods gives us a realistic chance of clarifying the genetic systems that impact on vulnerability to human alcohol problems, a goal that has so far largely eluded the scientific community," Kendler said.