Alcoholism Researcher Receives Prestigious MERIT Award

Sept. 22, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Dr. Rueben Gonzales, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy, has been awarded a $2.8 million MERIT Award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Established in 1986, the Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) program has become a symbol of scientific achievement in the research community. MERIT Awards are offered to a limited number of investigators who have demonstrated superior competence and outstanding productivity during their previous research endeavors.

Gonzales' research involves chemical changes in the brain that underlie alcohol drinking. Of particular interest is the role of dopamine, a chemical produced and found in the brain that relays, amplifies or modulates signals between a neuron and another cell.

Dopamine is known to be associated with behaviors that bring pleasure such as those triggered by drinking. Gonzales' lab, composed of graduate students and undergraduate science majors, is working to determine exactly when and where in the brain the dopamine response occurs.

"We know that dopamine does play a role in the urge to drink," said Gonzales. "What we're trying to determine in our lab is exactly when the dopamine response occurs. This will help answer the basic question of how the dopamine response may guide the individual to select drinking over other behaviors."

Gonzales' MERIT grant includes a direct allocation of $1.9 million plus indirect costs of $900,000 over a 10-year period. This brings the total amount of NIAAA funding for his research to $4.6 million.

Investigators cannot apply for MERIT Awards. The awards are designed to provide long-term stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are deemed superior and who are viewed by the selection team as "likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner."

"This is a wonderful award that provides national recognition to one of UT's most outstanding addiction researchers," said Dr. Adron Harris, an expert on addiction research and director of the university's Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research. "Dr. Gonzales is not only an outstanding researcher, but also a great mentor and teacher and a tremendous asset to The University of Texas at Austin."

"It's a great honor to be awarded a MERIT grant," Gonzales said. "It speaks to confidence on the part of the NIAAA review team regarding my work. But more important, it relieves the administrative burden of preparing grant applications and allows me to fully focus on the work in the lab."

For more information, contact: Nancy Neff.

14 Comments to "Alcoholism Researcher Receives Prestigious MERIT Award"

1.  Robert E. Walter said on Sept. 23, 2009

I am amazed at how much money and effort is expended for this type of research. I suggest the researcher attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. For a modest donation, if one wishes to contribute, they can learn the answers. Dr. Bob Smith theorized the alcoholic syndrome more than 70 years ago. All the research done since then only confirms Dr. Bob's hypothesis.

2.  Virginia Raymond said on Sept. 23, 2009

Congratulations, Dr. Rueben!

3.  Elena Tindall said on Sept. 24, 2009

I am very pleased to see the MERIT Award choose to support ongoing research in the field of addiction. As a person working to reduce stigma to mental health and behavioral health needs, as well as increasing people's access to care, including the AA, NA, etc. groups, I applaud the MERIT Award selection committee as well as Dr. Gonzales!

4.  r renner said on Sept. 24, 2009

I'm intrigued by Robert Walter's response (above). What is it about Dr. Gonzales' project that makes it so worthy? What is he expecting (hoping) to discover that isn't already well understood. It would be helpful to include this briefly in your report.

5.  Cheryl Jessee said on Sept. 24, 2009

AA is not a cure-all. My mother struggled with alcoholism for 30 years. She attended AA meetings but the disease was constantly there. She died at the age of 57. Yes, AA is a great program, but I truly appreciate that there are people willing to look deeper for the "why" of this disease. Congratulations, Mr. Gonzales.

6.  Amy said on Sept. 24, 2009

Great work, and I would appreciate hearing more. AA works for some...I think that spiritual experience leading to sobriety is what we are all after. Dopamine has to have a lot to do with that! Thank you, God, for terrific scientists!

7.  Edmund said on Sept. 24, 2009

Dr. Bob was a surgeon, not a researcher. Now, AA has helped many people, but Dr. Bob never knew why the human mind reacts to alcohol. Dr. Gonzales is discovering this, and his research may led to treatments not yet discovered.

8.  Joseph said on Sept. 24, 2009

I am not a scientist but even I grasp the concept that once you determine what chemical reactions in the brain trigger certain behaviors you are that much closer to figuring out how to prevent the behavior. We might actually be able to use the information Dr. Gonzales and his students gather to develop medication or other treatments that prevent or lessen those reactions or perhaps mimic the stimuli that the brain is seeking without engaging in the damaging behavior. Isn't this the process by which most psychotropic medications are and have been developed?

9.  Marg Quinton said on Sept. 25, 2009

I hope that this research can be shared among the growing populations of alcoholics in the colleges it is being researched in.

10.  Karlene Seime-Noble said on Sept. 27, 2009

I think the more research and understanding of alcoholism, the better. Too many lives are torn apart and destroyed by alcoholism. The more we find out, the better the treatment options. Keep up the good work, Dr. Gonzales!

11.  Stephen Wright said on Sept. 28, 2009

Congratulations, Dr. Gonzales. I commend your achievemenet. AA does not ask for money from outside individuals for support. We support ourselves. Also, our meetings are for those with a desire to stop drinking. If you want to find out more you would look for an open meeting of AA. There you would also find that for now we look for our solution through spiritual means. Bill W. said in our book that someday researchers might find the reason we drink like we do but in 1935 they hadn't and haven't since. Confirming alcoholism is indeed a disease and requires research for its cause is widely supported by AA'ers and that it is not a moral issue. I believe that regardless of what we find through research, recovery will still come from the AA principles and finding a higher power. Knowledge of the root cause is something alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike would very much like to know. I would.

12.  doug said on Sept. 29, 2009

He who thinks there is no more to learn knows little indeed. I would ask then, why does alcoholism remain one of society's great problems? Can we cure it or satisfactorily treat it? It would appear that much work is to be done.

13.  doug said on Sept. 29, 2009

Much less, prevent it.

14.  Jesus Garza said on Nov. 28, 2009

Rueben, this is great. Congratulations!