February 1, 2003

The National Institute for Drug Abuse has renewed its $2.8 million contract with Michael Forster, PhD, professor of pharmacology and neuroscience at UNT Health Science Center. The four-year contract provides funding for Dr. Forster to continue assessing experimental drugs that may have significant impact on the treatment of cocaine addiction. NIDA, a component of the National Institutes of Health, has funded Dr. Forsterâ??s assessment of potential cocaine treatment medications since 1992.

â??Abuse of and dependence on cocaine remains a critical public health concern,â? Dr. Forster said. â??Development of medications for preventing or treating both cocaine and methamphetamine dependence is the most compelling unattained goal of the NIDA Division of Treatment Research and Development. Currently, no effective pharmacotherapy exists to treat individuals dependent on these drugs.â?

Cocaine belongs to a class of drugs known as stimulants, which tend to give a temporary illusion of limitless power and energy but in the end leave the user feeling depressed, edgy and craving more. The drug has become more prevalent because it has become more affordable and available, especially in the form of â??crackâ? cocaine. Dr. Forster and his research team systematically evaluate chemical compounds for their individual pharmacological effects and their ability to alter the effects of cocaine.

Michael Gatch, PhD, research assistant professor of pharmacology and neuroscience, works with Dr. Forster on the project. Other members of the research team are postdoctoral research associates Scott Coleman, PhD, and Margaret Rutledge, PhD, research associate Cynthia Taylor, senior research assistants Bradley Youngblood and Carla Elsken, and research assistants Elva Flores and Meghan Selvig. Graduate students Craig Hilburn and Chauncey Daniels also contribute to the research efforts.

â??We evaluate about 300 compounds a year in the search for potentially effective ones,â? Dr. Gatch said. The ideal compound would have the same subjective effects as cocaine in the short run, but would block the stimulating effects cocaine causes and decrease the amount of cocaine used over the long term, he said.Dr. Forster said finding effective compounds for treating cocaine dependence is complicated because it acts on multiple receptors in the body.

The health science center is one of only two sites in the country that uses laboratory models to evaluate the efficacy of the compounds before they enter the clinical trial phase, Dr. Forster said. After completing additional test phases, the evaluated compounds are sent outside the health science center for the clinical trial phase, he said.

â??Weâ??re hard workers in a big program,â? Dr. Forster said. â??There is essentially no incentive for private industry to develop drugs to help heroin or psychostimulant addicts. Thereâ??s not much profit in it. The government is putting forth an effort similar to what private industries would do for a more marketable drug.â?


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