Dr. Glen R. Hanson assumed the duties of acting director of NIDA on December 1, 2001. Dr. Hanson's appointment to the position by Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, acting director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), follows the departure of Dr. Alan I. Leshner for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Most recently, Dr. Hanson has directed NIDA's Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research.
"The science NIDA supports has always been shaped by the goal of reducing the tremendous individual and social costs of drug abuse and addiction," Dr. Hanson says. "Under my stewardship, NIDA will continue to nurture quality research in all scientific disciplines, particularly basic neurobiology, to generate new information that can be used to improve the ways in which we prevent and treat drug abuse."
Dr. Hanson brings both a researcher's and a clinician's perspective to his new post. He holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Utah and a D.D.S. from the University of California, Los Angeles. As a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Dr. Hanson conducted research for more than 20 years on the response of critical brain systems and neurochemicals to stimulants, such as MDMA, methamphetamine, and cocaine. A frequent reviewer for major pharmacology and neuroscience journals, Dr. Hanson has served on NIH grant review committees and the editorial board of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. He also has been both a public health provider and a private practitioner.
Dr. Hanson's research has shown that abused stimulants have profound effects on the brain, producing dramatic alterations in two classes of naturally occurring neurotransmitters -- the monoamines, such as dopamine and serotonin, and the neuropeptides, which include endorphins and enkephalins. Ongoing research, Dr. Hanson notes, into the significance of these drug-induced neurochemical changes in critical brain pathways could provide important insights about drug abuse and other neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia. Dr. Hanson's research also has detailed the toxic effects of ecstasy (MDMA) and amphetamines on brain cells.
"As scientists, we have an obligation to make sure that what we do counts, that our work makes a difference."
Dr. Hanson says he hopes to increase understanding among both researchers and clinicians of the important role basic neurobiology findings can play in NIDA initiatives that aim to develop better solutions to the problems of drug abuse and addiction. Among the NIDA initiatives Dr. Hanson will focus his efforts on are:
- NIDA's recently launched multicomponent National Prevention Research Initiative that brings together basic, clinical, and applied researchers to improve drug abuse prevention across the Nation.
- NIDA's extensive programs to develop new medications and behavioral approaches to treat drug abuse and addiction. Both basic neurobiology and behavioral research are critical to these efforts. For example, under Dr. Hanson's leadership NIDA plans to build research partnerships with other NIH neuroscience institutes and private pharmaceutical companies to study basic brain mechanisms and develop new compounds that could be used to treat drug addiction and other brain diseases.
- NIDA's National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network, which is striving to improve the quality of drug abuse treatment in the Nation. Dr. Hanson plans to accelerate the CTN's momentum toward blending the worlds of drug abuse research and practice by expanding the network into additional regions of the country and promoting the use of clinical findings in the design of more relevant basic research studies.
Throughout his research career, Dr. Hanson has been supported extensively by NIDA and the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1998, NIDA recognized the potential of Dr. Hanson's work for gaining a greater understanding of the underlying neurobiology of drug addiction, presenting him with a Senior Scientist Award to enable him to devote more time to his research. In September 2000, NIDA tapped him to direct its Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research.
"The world of the laboratory is very exciting because of the potential for discovery," Dr. Hanson says. "But coming to NIDA gave me the chance to look at the bigger picture beyond the test tube. As scientists, we have an obligation to make sure that what we do counts, that our work makes a difference. To that end, I will strive to continue NIDA's efforts to bring researchers, clinicians, and providers together to realize the full benefits of science in achieving the goal we all share: improving the quality of care provided for patients."
Dr. Hanson will serve as NIDA's acting director until a permanent NIDA director is named. NIH is conducting a nationwide search to fill the position.