"Signature Projects" of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
NIDA has identified two major goals to highlight for support under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA): Eradicate Tobacco Abuse and Addiction and Understand How Genes Influence the Development and Morphology of the Human Brain. NIDA intends to identify Signature Grants from those funded under ARRA, particularly those submitted in response to the Challenge and Grand Opportunities FOAs, which hold promise for making significant advances towards achieving these goals. NIDA is seeking OD-ARRA co-funding for the second topic.
Eradicate Tobacco Abuse and Addiction
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, being associated with close to half a million deaths per year. World-wide that toll rises to five million deaths each year and, if current smoking patterns continue globally, tobacco use will kill 10 million persons annually by 2020. In addition it contributes significantly to a wide array of medical conditions including pneumonia, coronary heart, cardiovascular, and chronic lung diseases, various types of cancers, cataracts, sudden infant death syndrome, ADHD and addiction.
Public health interventions and biomedical advances have led to dramatic reductions in the prevalence of tobacco use. However, despite the availability of various medications and behavioral treatments to aid smoking cessation, the prevalence of nicotine addiction remains unacceptably high and exorbitantly expensive. This highlights the urgent need for additional research into the development of new therapeutic and prevention interventions.
Selecting from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded projects, NIDA will identify projects that hold promise for making significant advances toward the eradication of tobacco abuse and addiction over the next two years. Because of their importance and potential impact on human health, these projects will constitute one of the groups of "Signature Projects" of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA will identify Signature Projects that will accelerate the research and development of novel pharmacotherapeutic agents and vaccines to treat tobacco addiction through two major research avenues. First, we seek to promote investigations into new antibody-based approaches (i.e., vaccines) to boost or enable the body's immune system to mount an effective response against nicotine, even before it reaches the brain, blocking its rewarding effects. A nicotine vaccine will dramatically reduce the morbidity and mortality of tobacco use by preventing the progression to addiction in those who seek to initiate tobacco use and by facilitating cessation in those who seek to stop smoking. Second, we will also tap into the vast potential of novel compounds and in-license discoveries (e.g, chemical libraries) for the development of new medications for smoking cessation.
How do genes influence the development and morphology of the human brain?
In its second group of Signature Projects, NIDA seeks to merge genetics data from whole genome sequencing with brain morphology data, specifically as it changes through development, in well-characterized subjects. While the typical range and timing of brain morphological changes that occur during normal human development are becoming better characterized, we have little understanding of the interplay between genes and environment in shaping human brain development. Moreover, we still have very little knowledge of the genes expressed during different stages of brain development. Normative data are needed so that brain development can be correlated with individual environmental and genetic factors. Such data would be invaluable as a basis for understanding (1) the contribution of specific genes to neuropsychiatric disorders and (2) how exposure to certain environmental factors can trigger disease in those that are genetically vulnerable.
Studies in animal models that capitalize on genetics, such as transgenics and genetic mutations, and on comparisons across species to quickly validate the discoveries of the clinical studies and help identify genes that distinguish the brain complexity between the species are also a high priority.
The success of this program hinges on researchers' ability to build up novel bioinformatic approaches and algorithms capable of extracting meaningful information out of the overlaying of growing genomic and imaging databases (both preclinical and clinical), particularly across periods of active brain development. Equally critical, will be the ability of this program to spur and support intensely collaborative studies by a diverse array of interdisciplinary scientists. If successful, this strategy will generate critical information about normal brain development and the biological precursors and correlates of complex brain disorders, such as ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, and drug addiction.