UNT HEALTH SCIENCE CENTER RESEARCHERS AWARDED NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH GRANT TO STUDY BINGE DRINKING

December 20, 2005

Christopher de Fiebre, PhD, assistant professor, and NancyEllen de Fiebre, senior research associate, both in the department of pharmacology and neuroscience at UNT Health Science Center, were recently awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of binge drinking on brain function.

The project funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will specifically look at binge drinking, the act of consuming large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time.

The practice of binge drinking, which is predominantly associated with adolescents and young adults, is also practiced by about 20 percent of the American population aged 12 and older, according to a 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. According to the NIAAA, 1,400 college students die every year from alcohol-related causes, and more than 150,000 students develop a health problem related to alcohol consumption. One of the health problems that can be related to binge drinking is brain damage.

According to Dr. de Fiebre, patients who end up in the emergency room as a result of binge drinking receive mostly supportive therapy at that point â?? respirators to keep the patient alive. Currently, no therapies are available to alleviate the brain damaging properties of an alcohol overdose. The researchers hope that results from this grant will fill this void.

â??What we want to find out is the threshold where youâ??re going to start killing brain cells,â? Dr. de Fiebre said. â??When we find that threshold, weâ??ll be able to look at potential therapeutic treatments to keep the brain cells alive.â?

The $362,688 grant will fund a two-year research project. The first year will be spent developing a mouse model of binge-drinking-induced neurotoxicity to define the minimum amount of alcohol that produces brain damage. The second year will be spent working with mice that are missing the alpha7 nicotinic receptor to determine if and how this receptor decreases the brain damaging effects of alcohol.

â??Alcohol acts at dozens if not hundreds of different receptor sites,â? Dr. de Fiebre said. â??Our preliminary data suggest that the presence or absence of the receptors that nicotine acts at, the alpha7 receptor, may determine if you end up with a hangover, in the hospital or dead after a night of binge drinking.â?

The next two years of work funded by the NIAA will help corraborate the de Fiebresâ?? previous work. And if Dr. de Fiebreâ??s hypothesis proves to be true, the results could be used in studies of other types of brain-damaging diseases such as Alzheimerâ??s disease.

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Contact: Kay Colley 817-735-2553, cell 817-980-5090, e-mail kacolley@hsc.unt.edu.

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