September 30, 2005

Are improved treatments for addiction, new treatments for disorders like schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, and cognition enhancers in our future? Representatives from Foresight, the British government’s science-based think tank, presented results from the group’s Brain Science, Addiction, and Drugs Project at a NIDA Director’s Seminar on September 26, 2005, at NIDA headquarters. The Brain Science, Addiction, and Drugs Project involved more than 50 experts to explore how future scientific and technological advances will affect our understanding of addiction and drug use. Presenters at the NIDA Director’s Seminar included Dr. Trevor Robbins, Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, and Editor, Psychopharmacology; Dr. Gerry Stimson, Executive Director, International Harm Reduction Association, and Emeritus Professor of the Sociology of Health Behaviour, Imperial College London; and Mr. Andrew Jackson, Foresight Deputy Director. 

Foresight considered the implications of future advances in 15 areas of basic and social sciences, concluding that within the near future, scientists will better understand how the brain functions, which may help researchers develop: (1) revolutionary treatments for drug abuse, mental illness, or neurodegenerative diseases and (2) novel psychoactive drugs with fewer harms and lower risks of addiction than the substances currently available. Potential drug abuse treatment advances include new or improved behavioral therapies; cognitive therapies; vaccines; and pharmacotherapies that target glutamate neurotransmitters or neuropeptides, manage craving and relapse, improve cognitive function, or tailor therapuetic drugs to address specific genetic and environmental variables. Foresight predicted that the development of new ligands for key neurotransmitters, including serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine, could improve significantly the current understanding of brain operations. The Brain Science, Addiction, and Drugs Project also considered the implications these scientific advances will have on individuals, families, and communities and outlined strategic choices, opportunities, and challenges facing researchers, industry, and policymakers. The complete report is available on the Foresight  Web page.