ONDCP Web Site About ONDCP News and Public Affairs Policy Drug Facts Publications Related Links
Prevention Treatment Science and Technology Enforcement State and Local International Funding
Start of Main Content

[ Medical Research ]
        This article in PDF (1,870 kb)

�Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain that Stand in the Way of Treatment and Prevention

From left to right: Dr. O'Brien, Dr. Karp, Dr. Childress, Director Watlers, Dr. Brandenstein

In this Publication:

CTAC'S Mission

Article 1: Technology Transfer Program

Article 2: Counterdrug and Counterterror

Article 3: Winning with the Technology Transfer Program

Article 4: Wireless Interoperability to the Rescue

Article 5: Training; Law Enforcement R&D;

Article 6: DENS�Drug Evaluation Network System

Article 7: Medical Research

Article 8: Message from ONDCP Director John Walters

Good reasons to smile at dedication of new PET camera, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, April 4, 2002.

Prominent neuroscientists Dr. Anna Rose Childress and Dr. Charles O'Brien, now have the specialized brain scanner they need to develop medications to control craving in cocaine addicts. This new PET camera developed by Dr. Joel Karp's UPENN design team has a highly innovative array of 18500 detectors that can localize human brain activity to within 3.5 millimeters. With the accuracy available from the new PET camera, Dr. Childress can determine exactly where in the brain a therapeutic medicine is having its effect. Developing medications to alleviate the harmful effects of drugs of abuse is a top priority for White House Drug Czar John Walters and is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). CTAC Director Dr. Al Brandenstein runs Walters' program providing technologically innovative, state-of-the-art brain scanners to major US research institutions specifically to work on drugs of abuse.

Dr. Volkow with brain images of long-term meth users, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island, NY

One of the first CTAC-provided brain cameras went to a team of medical scientists led by Dr. Nora Volkow at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. They have used the machine to examine the brains of former methamphetamine addicts. The recovering drug abusers had been off meth for as long as 11 months and may have believed that their bodies and brains had escaped lasting injury, but what Dr. Volkow and her team discovered is chilling. Reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry, their study, funded by NIDA, says the brains of long term meth users appear permanently changed, leaving the recovering addicts with impaired memory and reduced physical coordination. Dr. Volkow told us her team was surprised to see from the PET camera images, that the subjects' brains showed the same kind of swelling normally associated with physical trauma, like the effect of radiation used to treat a tumor.

Mapping CTAC's plan to arm American brain researchers with state-of-the-art technology to develop counterdrug medications and new knowledge leading to better prevention and treatment

Edward, (photo right), a paraplegic and a cocaine addict, reported to Dr. Childress that Baclofen, the drug he takes to control muscle spasms, also lets him control his cocaine craving. Dr. Childress is pursuing that lead vigorously and her work with Edward was featured on the recent PBS series on the human brain. Dr. Childress' new, CTAC-sponsored PET camera was specifically designed to facilitate her NIDA-funded craving studies.

World's Most Powerful Brain Scanner for Use in Human Beings Provided by CTAC to Massachusetts General Hospital is on Historic Mission

Principal Investigator Prof. Hans Breiter, MD, (inside machine during its installation), plans to use the giant 7-Tesla fMRI to undertake a project of epic proportions, "Mapping the Circuitry of Human Motivation and Reward." Dr. Breiter hopes to get answers to questions about treatment and prevention that require unprecedented access to the innermost workings of the human brain. Until this machine was created (under the guidance of MGH's Dr. Bruce Rosen), such access was theoretical, only.

[ Medical Research ]

"Amped up! Angry! Misunderstanding people! Them misunderstanding me!"

That is how this young methamphetamine addict described some of the changes in her brain that she believes the drug has induced. What she did not know was while she was taking the drug in the streets, researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory led by Dr. Nora Volkow were making an important and chilling discovery. Working with Dr. Linda Chang and using a CTAC sponsored PET camera, Dr. Volkow documented long-term brain damage in methamphetamine users and suggested that this drug-induced brain damage may lead to early onset of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Dr. Volkow's discoveries with the PET camera include the observation that differences in individuals' natural brain chemistry may lead to addiction in some people who try drugs once, while sparing others the horrors of being addicted. She used her PET scanner at Brookhaven to test the brain response of 23 healthy young men to the legal stimulant, Ritalin. About half of those men had lower D2 dopamine receptors in their brains. They were the same subjects who said the Ritalin experience was pleasurable, suggesting, said Dr. Volkow that, "people with fewer dopamine receptors may take drugs to activate pleasure circuits in the brain which could be one of the factors that predisposes a person to drug abuse. "

The CTAC sponsored Primate Micro PET brain scanner was built by Dr. Simon Cherry to meet the research requirements of UCLA Prof. Edythe London, a pioneer in the neuroscience of addiction.

She will use the brain scanner, "to explore gene expression in monkey brain regions crucial to the reward effects of cocaine and other drugs. For the first time, the links between drug abuse and brain function will be linked to the expression of certain genes that can then be monitored externally. The implications for the development of counterdrug medications could be very significant."

Last Updated: August 29, 2002

Search Contact Site Map Mobile Web ONDCP Web site