Professor Awarded $1.85 Million Grant to Research Alcohol Effects on the Brain

Enjoying a cocktail or two won’t kill you, but over-consumption of alcoholic beverages isn’t good for one’s health.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Alex Dopico, professor and chair of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s (UTHSC) Department of Pharmacology, has researched alcohol’s effects on ion channel proteins in the central nervous system and brain circulation.

In 2009, Dopico was awarded a $3.6 million Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Dopico was permitted to use the award over a 10-year period for his alcohol studies, which involves him researching the effects of alcohol on BK channels in excitable cells, such as central neurons and brain arterial smooth muscle.

The first half of Dopico’s MERIT Award expired this past June. He was recently awarded a $1.85 million extension to fund the remaining five years of his research. With the additional funding, Dopico seeks to develop drugs that target the proteins within cells that control the physiological and behavioral changes associated with alcohol intoxication in order to prevent or reverse those effects, according to a UTHSC press release.

“My job is to find molecular sites and mechanisms by which alcohol affects excitable tissue physiology, and thus agents that fight the consequences of alcohol intoxication in the brain,” Dopico said in a statement. “To do that, you need to find the protein sites where alcohol docks or interacts, and we had a very critical breakthrough in the BK channel protein.”

Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the United States from 2006 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, excessive drinking was responsible for one in 10 deaths among adults aged 20 — 64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 were estimated at $223.5 billion, or $1.90 a drink.

By Louis Goggans

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