HUNTINGTON – Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center, in conjunction with Marshall University, received a merit review grant of $ 992,000 from the VA Office of Research and Development, Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development Service to study the effect of excessive alcohol consumption on the brain.
The grant will be used to fund research aimed at identifying “new non-neural mechanisms” involved in the “disruption of neuronal activity” that occurs after excessive alcohol consumption.
Mary-Louise Risher, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, is the principal investigator who will lead the study. As a postdoctoral research associate at Duke University, Risher received a Career Development Award through the VA Research and Development Office, Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development Department. The current Award of Merit allows Risher to continue to investigate the underlying causes of alcohol-induced cognitive dysfunction and the emergence of alcohol use disorders.
Risher explained that 50% of the brain is made up of non-neuronal cells that connect and support neural function. Little is known about these non-neuronal cells and it was long thought that they had little function. But researchers now realize that the connections communicate with neurons and help us think.
Where neurons and non-neuronal cells meet, there’s a glove-like envelope, Risher said. But with excessive alcohol consumption, the glove begins to tear and it is unable to support the neurons.
Risher said that in rodent models simulating binge drinking, which is four to five drinks in an hour, the effects are still visible a month later. This could mean that excessive alcohol consumption has long-term effects on the brains of young adults.
Veterans aged 20 to 25 are more likely to be binge drinking and more likely to have an alcohol use disorder than their peers aged 46 or older.
“What we are doing is focusing on pre-deployment and the habit of drinking before they are deployed,” she said. “The characteristics of drinking behavior then probably play an important role in what they choose to do later in life. When it comes to West Virginia and the Appalachian region, we are a big contributor to the number of military. We must support them. “
Risher said she hopes her research will help learn more about non-neuronal cells and also help broach new therapies for alcohol and substance use disorders.
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