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UTHealth Team Wins $2.6M Grant to Study Gene-Environment Interactions in Cocaine Use

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have been awarded a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how two specific environmental factors interact with genetics in cocaine addiction.

With the five-year grant, UTHealth's Joy Schmitz and colleagues — including investigators at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil — will analyze existing DNA samples from 1,000 individuals with cocaine use disorder (CUD) and 1,000 control subjects to characterize the role of trauma exposure and HIV infection on epigenetic signatures and gene-environment interactions in cocaine addiction.

The study — which is part of an ongoing project called the Collaborative Case-Control Initiative in Cocaine Addiction — specifically aims to examine genome-wide associations and gene-environment interactions, the relationship between traumatic stress and DNA methylation, and the additive effect of HIV infection as a biological stressor on DNA methylation in the context of CUD.

As part of the grant, the researchers will also implement training programs in molecular epidemiology, bioinformatics, and management of substance use disorders and trauma for investigators in the area of Rio Grande Brazil.

"The significance of the genetic findings will be further investigated using the UTHealth Brain Collection for Research in Psychiatric Disorders," UTHealth's Consuelo Walss-Bass, who is one of the grant's principal investigators, said in a statement. "These studies will help further the understanding of how gene-environment interactions impact the severity of cocaine use disorder and lead to development of more tailored and targeted treatments for this chronic and global public health problem."