The Health Science Center will expand new research opportunities to address addiction

Tobey Schmidt | The Daily Wildcat

Adam Buntzman, research assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, works with DNA in a lab on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2017, in Tucson.

Researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences were awarded with a $6.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant will go towards the development of the Center of Excellence in Addiction Studies (CEAS).

CEAS seeks to improve addiction research at the University with the goal being to develop therapies that will help slow the opioid epidemic and other substance abuse issues as well.

Todd Vanderah PHD, and Frank Porreca PHD, interim director and interim associate research director of the Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center are the two leading in the development of CEAS.

“The center is meant to promote investigations and studies into the basic neurobiology of addiction and to promote approaches for development of new therapies and treatments for addiction disorders,” said Porreca.


Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, is the Medical Director of the CEAS and shared interesting developments when it comes to the treatment of addiction and how to identify it.

“There is a difference between a physiological dependence and addiction," said Ibrahim. "These are all possibilities we have to phase out, and it's really important to understand these differences before labeling someone as addicted vs. dependent.”

The CEAS primary focus will be on the detrimental response of brain circuits linked to addiction with a focus on three core areas: genetics, neuroanalytics and behavior.

“The genetic part of [our studies] is that we want to be able to manipulate specific cells in the brain to know how a cell in one part of the brain talks to another cell in a different part of the brain,” Porreca said. “We can do that through these modern genetic methods which we can use to target specific cells.”

The next one of the three core areas that the CEAS hopes to study and find out things about is neuroanalytical.

“One of the things that we want to do is measure neurotransmitters. In brain circuits there’s a release of chemicals that allow neuron cells to talk to one another. What we want to do is be able to measure those in a very precise fashion which requires quite advanced methods,” Porreca said on the neuroanalytical focus behind the center

Resources that the CEAS will provide are not only exclusive to researchers at the UA. Scientists throughout the Southwest, along with already existing partnerships with Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, University of New Mexico and Texas Tech University.

“The whole purpose of science is to disseminate knowledge and collaborate with others. We may have some ideas, other people might have more ideas and sometimes even better ideas.” said Ibrahim

Researchers from other institutions will be able to use new tools and testing abilities provided through the CEAS to help create new collaborative studies relevant to addiction and relapse.

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